JThis is the story of a triumph at Manchester City built on trust, faith, mutual respect, working together and, above all, excellence. This is the story of how Pep Guardiola oversaw what those close to the manager consider his team’s best season, better even than the record 100-point maiden title triumph of 2017-18 or last season. , when he had to reset the side after a tasteless 1-1 draw at home to West Brom.
He couldn’t have had the happiest of Sunday’s endings without Guardiola’s close relationship with Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the chairman, with whom he speaks before and after every game. Nor without the daily breakfasts on the training campus in an area of the cafeteria in front of the players where Guardiola, his No. 2 Juanma Lillo, director of football Txiki Begiristain, CEO Ferran Soriano and Manuel Estiarte are present, the adviser closest to the manager. .
Constant contact with Mubarak et al makes Guardiola happier than he was when in charge of his boyhood club Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He was understandably tired as this season reached its peak, but the 51-year-old agrees City are the perfect place to work. Seeing an inner group who are also friends each morning allows for chat and relaxation as well as an ongoing conversation regarding the team.
Guardiola is a man of great intelligence and sensitivity. The Guardian has been told that this last feature, in particular, is a great strength as it enables a sixth sense about his players, his team, the opponent and the sport. But it can also be an Achilles’ heel as Guardiola can spend precious energy on intangible issues, with exasperated friends sometimes advising him it’s counterproductive.
While this season is considered City’s best for excellence almost from the first to the last whistle, it is recognized that for Guardiola and his team, the closing month may have been the most difficult. City faced Liverpool (2-2 draw at home) on April 10, then Atlético Madrid in the quarter-final first leg of the Champions League. The Spanish city are hostile to Guardiola – not because of his loyalty to Barcelona, but because of his opinion regarding his native Catalonia’s desire for independence. This made the trip more attritional (City secured a place in the semi-finals) and three days later the team were at Wembley to play against Liverpool again, for a place in the FA Cup final (they lost 3-2). Then, after three victorious league matches (Brighton, Watford and Leeds) and the semi-final at home against Real Madrid, it’s back to the Spanish capital.
There City were eliminated after two late strikes from Rodrygo and Karim Benzema’s extra-time winner were conceded, but Guardiola’s side nevertheless rallied in bitter disappointment to beat Newcastle 5-0 and Wolves 5 -1 ahead of last weekend’s 2-2 draw at West Ham. , keeping Liverpool at bay and setting up Villa Sunday’s win over Aston Villa.
It all depends on how prepared City are to succeed, with Guardiola as the focal point. When he sat down for an interview with a Premier League broadcaster this season, he offered an off-camera aside that was a telling insight. “They don’t blame me at the club when I lose a game,” he told the Guardian. “People here come to me asking what can be done to help me more.”
Publicly, Guardiola’s mantra is that he must win or the bell will ring for his term. But, although defeats are hated, the most important thing for him is the performance of the team, as it depends on the stability he and the club have in place. City are a super-skilled entity trying to ensure that the best manager of the generation is given everything to harness their powers. Above all, the players are not brought in without his agreement.
Piece One. In August, Cristiano Ronaldo was available and Guardiola wanted a proven prolific finisher. Begiristain and his department assessed the Portuguese first, then it was up to the manager. Guardiola wasn’t convinced a 36-year-old was right for the team and so no decision was made. Ronaldo was only considered after Harry Kane’s failed pursuit as the ideal replacement for City’s record goalscorer Sergio Agüero. When Tottenham signaled offers were to be north of £150m, the club walked away and Guardiola ended the window without the dedicated centre-forward he wanted. His response was not to sulk but to get to work. The result was stunning. City have scored 99 league goals, five more than Liverpool and 16 more than they did as champions last season.
Piece Two. Erling Haaland is 21, a serial goalscorer, and was available at a bargain price from Borussia Dortmund thanks to his buyout clause of around €60million. Real were the Norwegian’s first choice, but the Spanish champions chased Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé, only to miss out, and Haaland became an option for City. Again, to Guardiola. Uncertain at the start, he came to warm up the player and gave the green light to the deal which brought Haaland to the club.
Throughout this campaign, there has been no crisis point. There were (very few) draw displays: Guardiola was unhappy with January’s 1-1 draw at Southampton and the 2-0 home loss to Crystal Palace. But despite the lack of an acknowledged number 9 and the loss of first-choice left-back Benjamin Mendy, who was suspended indefinitely in August after being charged with rape and sexual assault, the response has been supreme. There have been just three league defeats – two by Tottenham – with 26 goals conceded compared to 32 last season. Twenty-three – in 2018-19 – is the only lower tally under Guardiola.
He was shrewd in other ways. Aymeric Laporte has been reinstated alongside Rúben Dias in central defense after Guardiola spotted a subtle decline from John Stones, who was dropped despite last season’s fine form. Laporte proved almost faultless.
Liverpool pushed hard, coming from 14 points behind at one stage, but Guardiola remained calm and confident. The serenity of his working environment is reflected in the satisfaction he derives from a group of players who, understandably, have pleasantly surprised him because, despite a lot of work under him for five years or more, he does not there is no combat fatigue. They continue to “run and run”, rather than becoming complacent, and accept personal responsibility for any drop in performance.
The end result: a fourth Championship in six remarkable years in east Manchester at a club built to ensure Guardiola can make the most of his genius. That’s why Manchester City are the English champions again.