Manchester City’s Saint Pep is a sinner but that’s a key part of why Guardiola is a winner
Manchester City are drawing plaudits for their record run of 15 consecutive wins but painting a picture of their manager as both saint and saviour of football ignores the cynical reality
Jose Mourinho is probably the last manager who should be moaning about being gracious in victory but there was some truth to his needling Manchester derby comments about Pep Guardiola.
Don’t get me wrong. Mourinho’s got a highlight reel of celebratory lowlights – the charge down the Old Trafford touchline, the knee slide onto the Nou Camp pitch, thumping his chest through his Chelsea gilet at the Anfield away end.
No doubt all of his supporters loved those moments, and Manchester City’s players did nothing wrong in celebrating their 2-1 win over their local rivals and only realistic remaining Premier League challengers as they stretched their lead over second-placed Manchester United to 11 points.
You can imagine Alex Ferguson would have been a bit cuter, too, had he still been in that home dressing room after the derby.
He would have made his players sit there and listen to the music blaring out from the away dressing room down the hall, and told them to make sure they never have to feel that humiliation again.
Ferguson certainly wouldn’t have barged down City’s door and sparked a wild brawl between both sets of players.
But the lionising of Guardiola as the last remaining bastion of honesty and integrity, defending football’s honour against the evil Mourinho, is too much.
Still, the FA have asked Mourinho to explain his pre-derby jibes that City players fall down when there is “a little bit of wind” and use “tactical fouls” high up the pitch to swiftly halt opposition counter attacks at the source.
Guardiola’s holier-than-thou response? City can’t be guilty of this, because you can’t commit fouls if you control possession.
“When we have the ball, we kick each other? I think that doesn’t happen in football,” Guardiola said, when the subject was raised at a news conference ahead of City’s game against Tottenham. “I don’t know statistically but I don’t think so.
“I never, never, never, never sent a message to my players. You can ask the players, these players and the old players if my message on the pitch was to make fouls. I don’t use this kind of message.”
Still, Kyle Walker was booked with less than four minutes gone at Old Trafford for bringing down Marcus Rashford with a cynical challenge as he looked to spring a counter attack from deep inside United’s half, with City camped high up the pitch and vulnerable.
Then there was Gabriel Jesus fouling Anthony Martial on the edge of United’s box when – you guessed it – City had lost the ball and Martial was beginning a counter-attack.
Unlike Walker, Jesus wasn’t booked for the snide foul, and neither did he receive a yellow card for diving to try and win a penalty in the first half, while Ander Herrera was later booked for the same thing. Perhaps there had been a breeze blowing when Jesus went down.
Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides used the same tactics. All teams employ tactical fouls in some form and it would be naive not to – but at least admit to it.
“[We try] to be ready, to be close, to be close to their run,” said Guardiola. “Of course, we make fouls. Of course, we do that. We are not a saint. Of course we do fouls.
“It’s because of the way the game is. Sometimes, when tripping, you make a foul and get a yellow card. That’s football.”
Ah, that’s it. Raheem Sterling just ‘tripped’ when he threw his body into Martial outside the box as the Frenchman made a surging run with United searching for a late equaliser.
Sterling didn’t even attempt to pretend he was challenging for the ball by sticking out a leg and seemed as surprised as anyone not to get a booking for it.
Having battled over the La Liga title with Mourinho’s Real Madrid for three seasons, Guardiola’s feud with his old rival threatens to turn ugly again after last season’s relative love-in.
Now the digs are flying thick and fast from both sides as their cold war heats up.
“I think Tottenham are with Chelsea as the best team in wanting to play football,” said Guardiola on Friday. “They don’t expect their opponents [to force the play], they want to make their own game.”
This is the Tottenham team who are seven points below United and 18 off City in the table, and the third-placed Chelsea who employed the same tactics as Mourinho did against City when they parked the bus at Stamford Bridge in a 1-0 loss.
City certainly didn’t seem to want to play football either when they held the ball by the corner flag for several minutes at Old Trafford before the clock had even ticked past 90.
They didn’t seem to want to play football when they did the same thing at Huddersfield, having come from behind to lead 2-1 late on, or when Fernandinho was booked for diving and trying to win a penalty.
For Guardiola, time wasting is only reprehensible when other teams do it. In much the same way as Mourinho feels slighted when his own tactics are turned against him. Perhaps Pep should invade the pitch at full time and verbally berate his own players with animated gusto for such offences, as he did to Southampton’s Nathan Redmond.
“I said to Nathan: ‘You have to attack because you have the quality to do that’,” explained Guardiola, who also claimed he was just telling Redmond “how good a player he is” when he appeared to aggressively berate the player for Southampton’s defensive tactics that saw them almost snatch a point off City before a 96th-minute winner from Sterling.
The FA asked Guardiola to explain his actions but he escaped a suspension.
“Surprised? No, not surprised,” Mourinho said of Guardiola’s let-off, though he refused to be drawn on whether there is one rule for him and another for Guardiola, having been sent to the stands last season for kicking a water bottle on the touchline.
“I can’t answer,” he added. “You know, if you are my friends, don’t ask me the question, because you know I get into trouble, so no.”
It was vintage Mourinho mind games in a season that is turning into a familiar story for him – second best in every area to Guardiola, even in the subtle mastery of football’s dark arts.