Pep Guardiola’s new contract remains unsigned and there haven’t been too many noises of late about that situation changing. But what’s the real reason as to why the genial Spaniard may be ready to call time on his career at Man City?
On the continent, the role of the man in charge of first-team affairs is best described as ‘coach’. They take training, pick the players, determine the tactics and are in charge of all things on matchday. But that’s where their responsibilities end.
In England, the role of the boss is more adequately known as ‘manager’. The clue is in the name as to what the job entails.
The day-to-day management of a football team with such varied responsibilities as coaching his players, being a part of transfer policy and contract negotiations, dealing with players’ personal issues, making calls on injuries and if you’re Arsene Wenger, deciding what temperature the changing rooms should be at.
Not that it ends there. In his second autobiography, Roy Keane revealed that during his time as manager of Sunderland it wasn’t unusual for members of the non-playing staff to ask him for among many other things, marital advice. Why? The thinking was probably that if you’ve been put in charge of a group of millionaire footballers, you’re bound to know something about managing expectations at home, as well.
Only those behind the scenes at Manchester City will know whether the tea lady knocks on Pep Guardiola’s door for advice on how to get her husband to come home from the pub any earlier, but what we all know is that Guardiola is a very intense man indeed.
And worshipped as he was at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, his role came more under the ‘continental’ category rather than the ‘English football manager’ one.
Now, Guardiola isn’t a man to leave any stone unturned or anything to chance, meaning that control freak that he is, the City job entails greater responsibility, more interaction, more duties and more time asked of him than what he was used to before arriving at the Etihad.
The result of Guardiola’s round-the-clock efforts is that City are currently going through their most successful period in English football. On his watch, City have won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups (they’re well on course for a third) and two Community Shields.
It has however come at a price. Guardiola is cutting an increasingly weary figure in press conferences, post-match interviews and in the dugout. At times he struggles to keep his eyes open during interviews or appear to have the energy to crack a smile. It’s hardly surprising. With Guardiola it’s all-or-nothing: 100% commitment day-in-day-out, or he might as well not be there.
It helps to explain why he’s just about the only top manager in football who has insisted on taking sabbaticals. Not time out of the game between jobs but actual enforced breaks to recharge his batteries, clear his mind and well, prepare for the next challenge.
By the time he finishes what will have been his fourth full season at Manchester City, he will have been there longer than at any club before.
And it’s perhaps this element of things, more than any other, that explains why Guardiola is yet to sign a new contract, with the current one expiring at the end of the season.
He looks like a man who needs a break and though of course he’d never say it, maybe he’s already made his mind up about calling time on his spell at City. But fatigue isn’t the only reason.
The Holy Grail
Guardiola’s tactics seem better suited to making his team dominate a domestic league than being a Champions League winner.
Maybe it’s the way the best European teams take on City at their own game and go for the jugular or quite simply that the standard of defending is higher among Europe’s elite than your average Premier League club. Or it may just be that these knockout ties are often determined by one key moment and that a few of them- including some tight VAR calls- have often gone against City of late. In the Premier League the cream rises to the top over the course of 38 games and that’s where Guardiola’s homework of the opposition and endless training drills pays dividends.
In six seasons at Bayern and City, the best he’s managed in the Champions League were semi-final appearances, meaning he hasn’t won the Champions League since the 2010-11 season.
That of course is the one City really want to win and like a few managers before him, most notably Jose Mourinho when winning the Champions League with Porto in 2004, conquering European’s football’s biggest prize means there’s little else to do at that club.
Winning the big one would surely be the missing piece of the jigsaw, the end product for four years of hard labour, hundreds of hours on the training pitch and sleepless nights worrying what was going to happen on matchday. It would be job done.
Bizarrely, not winning it could have a similar result. Having gone into the Champions League as clear favourites for the last two years – as you can see here – https://www.marathonbet.co.uk/en/betting/Football/Outright/UEFA+Champions+League – only to fall at the hands of Premier League rivals Liverpool and Tottenham, Guardiola may just decide that it’s just not to meant to be at City.
The other point about Guardiola is that it’s never about the money, the power or the perks of being one of the game’s top managers. It’s about a lot more than that; even more than just winning trophies.
His love of football and football management comes from the challenge of turning something raw into something beautiful, polished and highly efficient; you suspect he’d make a good engineer.
He may yet win the Champions League of course but he’s already mastered the art of dominating the Premier League. Fine, this year Liverpool have been too good even for him but City’s performances and results under him over the past couple of seasons will take some beating.
So it may be a case of ‘been there and done it’ for him, with a new challenge in a new league being the obvious next step. After the inevitable sabbatical, of course.
And that would probably be a move to the one top league (with all due respect to Ligue 1) where he hasn’t gone: Serie A. With Maurizio Sarri doing a stellar job at Juventus and Antonio Conte finally mounting a challenge to Juve’s Serie A dominance with Inter Milan, maybe a side who has recently under-achieved would provide the sort of challenge he really craves. Maybe a Napoli or an AC Milan.
After all, Barcelona, Bayern and Man City were all dominant figures in their respective leagues before Guardiola arrived; he just made them even better. Taking a side normally finishing fourth or fifth all the way to the title thanks to his brilliance could be just the sort of challenge the doctor ordered.
All of which means he could very well be off come May. And if that’s the case, we’d all be well-advised to enjoy and appreciate his City team in action while we can. It’s unlikely we’ll see another one like him anytime soon.