Confidence, stability and breakfast talks: How Guardiola delivered another title | Manchester City


This is the story of Manchester City’s title triumph, a story of trust, faith, mutual respect, working together and, above all, excellence. It’s a story of how Pep Guardiola oversaw his team’s best season, which, from the manager’s perspective, beat even the record-breaking 100-point title win of 2017-18 or last season when he had to reset the team after a boring 1-1 draw at home with West Brom.

Sunday could not have ended so happily were it not for Guardiola’s close relationship with Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the chairman with whom he speaks before and after every game. Not even without the daily breakfast at the training campus, in an area of ​​the cafeteria opposite the players, attended by Guardiola, his number 2 Juanma Lillo, football director Txiki Begiristain, CEO Ferran Soriano and Manuel Estiarte, the manager’s closest advisor.

The constant contact with Mubarak and Co. makes Guardiola happier than when he was responsible for his youth club Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich. He was understandably tired as this season reached its peak but the 51-year-old recognizes City is the ideal place to work. Seeing an inner group who are also friends each morning allows for chat and relaxation, as well as ongoing conversations about the team.

Guardiola is a man of high intelligence and sensitivity. The Guardian was told the latter trait in particular is a major strength because it allows for a sixth sense about your players, your team, your opposition and the sport. But it can also be an Achilles’ heel, as Guardiola can devote valuable energy to intangible issues, although angry friends sometimes point out to him that it’s counterproductive.

If this season is ranked as City’s best almost from start to finish, there’s a recognition that for Guardiola and his staff the last month or so has been perhaps the most difficult. On April 10, City met Liverpool (2-2 at home) and then away against Atlético Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The Spanish city is hostile to Guardiola – not because of his loyalty to Barcelona but because of his opinion on his native Catalonia’s desire for independence. This made the journey more grueling (City secured a semi-final berth) and three days later the side played Liverpool again at Wembley to earn a place in the FA Cup final (they lost 3-2). After three victorious league games (Brighton, Watford and Leeds) and the home game in the semifinals against Real Madrid, it was then back to the Spanish capital.

There, City were eliminated after two late Rodrygo goals and Karim Benzema’s winner in extra time, but Guardiola’s side bounced back from bitter disappointment, beating Newcastle 5-0 and Wolves 5-1 before last weekend’s 2-2 draw at West Ham to keep Liverpool at bay and set up Villa’s win over Aston Villa on Sunday.

It all depends on how prepared City are for success, with Guardiola at the center. When he sat down for an interview with a Premier League broadcaster this season, he offered a peek behind the camera that offered a revealing glimpse. “They don’t blame me at the club if I lose a game,” the Guardian is told. “People here come and ask what can be done to help me more.”

Pep Guardiola with Manchester City's sporting director Txiki Begiristain at training in March.
Pep Guardiola with Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain at training in March. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

In public, Guardiola’s mantra is that he must win or the bell will ring for his tenure. But while defeats are abhorred, what matters more to him is how the team performs because it’s a function of the stability he and the club have. City is a super smart unit trying to make sure what is arguably the best manager of the generation gets everything to harness their powers. It is crucial that players are not used without his consent.

Exhibit One. By August Cristiano Ronaldo was available and Guardiola wanted a proven productive finisher. First Begiristain and his department examined the Portuguese, then it went to the manager. Guardiola wasn’t convinced a 36-year-old was right for the side and so nothing was done. Ronaldo was only considered the ideal replacement for City’s retired record goalscorer Sergio Aguero after Harry Kane’s failed pursuit. When Tottenham signaled bids had 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 on with the work. The result was stunning. City have scored 99 league goals, five more than Liverpool and 16 more than they scored as last season’s champions.

exhibition two. Erling Haaland is 21, a serial goalscorer and, thanks to his €60 million exit clause, was available at a bargain price at Borussia Dortmund. Real were the Norwegian’s first choice but the Spanish champions pursued Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé only to miss and Haaland became an option for City. Back over to Guardiola. Unsure at first, he struck up a conversation with the player and gave the green light to the deal that brought Haaland to the club.

There was no crisis point during this campaign. There was (very rare) silliness: Guardiola was unhappy with January’s 1-1 draw at Southampton and 2-0 loss at home to Crystal Palace. But despite there being no recognized No.9 and losing first-choice left-back Benjamin Mendy, who was indefinitely suspended in August following charges of rape and sexual assault, the reaction has been overwhelming. There were just three league defeats last season – two against Tottenham – with 26 goals against 32. 23 – 2018-19 – is the only lower total under Guardiola.

The form of Aymeric Laporte (left), seen here fighting with Mohamed Salah, has repaid Pep Guardiola's faith in the defender.
The form of Aymeric Laporte (left), seen here fighting with Mohamed Salah, has repaid Pep Guardiola’s faith in the defender. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

He was smart in a different way. Aymeric Laporte was reinstated alongside Rúben Dias in central defense after Guardiola noticed a slight decline at John Stones, who was dropped despite last season’s good form. Laporte proved nearly flawless.

Liverpool pushed hard and were 14 points down at times, but Guardiola remained calm and confident. The serenity of his work environment is reflected in the satisfaction he draws from a group of players who are known to have pleasantly surprised him, for although many have worked under him for five years or more, there is no battle fatigue. They keep “running and running” rather than becoming complacent and take personal responsibility for any drop in performance.

The end result: a fourth championship in a remarkable six years at East Manchester at a club built to allow Guardiola to bring out the best in his genius. That’s why Manchester City are once again England’s champion team.

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