Pep Guardiola about to turn the world sky blue at Manchester City
Trophy-winning Spaniard creates a buzz like no manager before – and how will United respond?
The reaction to Pep Guardiola’s certain takeover of Manchester City was akin to a Second Coming.
English Premier League annotators tripped over themselves, showering adulation on the serial trophy-winning Spaniard who will replace Manuel Pellegrini at the end of the season.
“Pep will lift standards across the country”, “a coach of self-belief and boldness”, “the finest of his generation”, “a wizard”, and “Manchester City are destined for world domination” they gushed.
There’s no doubting the arrival of the alchemist Guardiola is a coup for the EPL as well as Manchester City. He has led Barcelona and Bayern to Europe’s finest silverware, losing only 39 times in 377 games in all competitions – a staggering 73.5 winning per cent.
Though he is unlikely to entice Lionel Messi to England’s punishing winter slog, his golden hello £150-million transfer budget will see plenty of star-spangled receipts lodged into the Etihad ledger over the next 12 months – and that’s good news for all fans.
Guardiola’s first season will be a steep learning curve, as Juergen Klopp is finding out at Liverpool.
There’s no cosy clique of elite clubs to spar with and no hushed stadiums in which to find sanctuary.
Every EPL club sees you as their equal and does their damnedest to bring an overachiever down a peg or two; even ball boys are out to get you.
Guardiola’s arrival did not come as a surprise across town at Manchester United (or for anyone given it was the worse-kept secret). But the United board must be ruing more than ever their disastrously executed plan for the post-Alex Ferguson era.
They had plenty of time to counter the challenge from their noisy neighbours. Power has been sliding exponentially towards the eastern boroughs and the Etihad ever since it was announced in 2008 that the Abu Dhabi United Group had taken over City and signed Real Madrid’s Robinho for £33 million.
Eight years on, the circle has been squared. City were adamant they had found their man in 2012, when conversations with Guardiola first started a year before he joined Bayern.
He declined their initial overtures because he did not think City were far enough down the road to development – a shrewd move because appointing the right manager at the wrong time proves disastrous for the reputations of manager and club.
City persevered. Chief executive Ferran Soriano and football director Txiki Begiristain are friends of Guardiola, his associates and his family. With each, they conversed with persuasion and assurance.
They planned and built everything around Guardiola, including a new academy to satisfy his belief in youth.
City are ready for Guardiola, and having conquered La Liga and the Bundesliga, he is ready for Etihad and the EPL.
City fans are delirious. The club’s turnaround has been remarkable. Between 1976 and 2011, their team did not win a single trophy.
Under Pellegrini and his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, they have won two EPL titles, a League Cup and an FA Cup. But with success comes perfection.
Even with all the cash in the world and illustrious players, City are far from consistent.
Conciliation is required. Guardiola is tasked with making the team equal to its sum of individual talents and to create a force to rival Barcelona, Real Madrid and United.
With China and US buy-ins, the world is his to turn sky blue. City have upped the ante, and some.
United can only look on nervously and envy at City’s long-term planning. Now they must respond – but how?
Do they stick with Louis van Gaal and hope by season’s end he has turned things around and can attract the same players hunted by City? Or will the American owners gamble and twist?
A driven, trophy-hungry super coach is urgently required to match the new standards about to be set just down the road.
The beads of sweat on anxious brows are not the preserve of the United board, however. Clammy collars are being loosened in the boardrooms of Chelsea and Arsenal, too, while the spotlight on Liverpool’s perceived saviour burns with extra heat this weekend.