A question consistently posed by critics of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is whether the Catalan coach could create a winning team faced with a greater degree of adversity.
Having come to one of England’s top clubs, following spells at Bayern Munich and Barcelona, the accusation is he has always inherited a side at the top and never had to build.
Well, anyone doubting Guardiola’s stomach for the fight was given a clear answer on Friday [10/02/2023] when the coach addressed speculation the club could be relegated to the bottom of English soccer because of allegations about past financial statements.
“I am not moving from this seat. I can assure you more than ever that I want to stay. More than ever,” he said.
“If we are guilty we will go to the lower divisions like before, we will call Paul Dickov and Mike Summerbee.”
It was a remarkable press conference from the Manchester City manager, who went majorly on the offensive despite the issues not relating directly to either his department or time at the club.
“Would’ve been very easy to say no comment and point towards the club’s statement. Man City are very fortunate to have him,” pointed out Daily Mail journalist Jack Gaughan on Twitter.
Guardiola attacked mercilessly, he felt the scales had been unfairly titled and those accusing the club of financial breaches had an agenda.
“We were not part of the establishment,” he told reporters, “they should let us have the chance to defend ourselves.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but it didn’t happen.”
“You know on what side I am on,” he continued “I am fully convinced that we will be innocent. What will happen then? It’s been the same since Abu Dhabi took over.
“Between the word of the 19 clubs or the word of my people, I’m sorry if I am going to rely on the word of my people.”
But we shouldn’t be surprised Guardiola reacted in this way, attacking is part of his DNA off the pitch and on it.
Guardiola’s approach on the field has historically been defined by a willingness to attack, sometimes, critics have argued, to the detriment of the defense.
His teams pushed the opposition deep into their own half and suffocated them, barely relinquishing possession of the ball.
Occasionally there was a pass over the top that sliced his team in two and presented a seemingly wounded opponent with a glorious chance from next to nothing, but it didn’t happen often.
Nevertheless, the cliched interpretation of his commitment to this style was that it was ‘naive,’ an argument firmly contested by the man himself.
“People say ‘You have to be more pragmatic, more clinical.’ More pragmatic than me? I’m sorry […] When we’re talking about pragmatic we’re not talking about ‘the way’ or something to discuss about football – it’s numbers. And numbers, I am good [… I’m not here to make fantastic football for the beauty, I am here to win games.”
The smartest way to protect your own goal is to dominate the opposition or put simply; the best form of defense is attack.
Guardiola displayed the same mentality when dealing with the most recent challenge off the field. What did he do when it felt like the whole of the soccer came for City? Attack.
Even though he could legitimately claim this was not his fight, the Catalan didn’t just push back on the allegations, he called out the leaders of rival clubs and suggested they need to be careful in the future
“Why [have City been charged]? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the other executives. [Tottenham Hotspur chairman] Daniel Levy and those kinds of people and go to a press conference and ask them,” he quipped.
“They open a precedent right now. What happened to us, be careful. What happened to us, there are a lot of clubs that could be accused in the future.”
‘You play better when you hate me’
This year perhaps more than any other we have witnessed the intense passion that has driven Guardiola to such success
In one of his most famous team talks in the 2017-18 season, captured in the Amazon
The truth was, publicly at least, that side of the Catalan had never been especially visible.
But this year he has been willing to go on the offensive with his own players and supporters for all to see.
“[We are lacking] passion, desire, to win from minute one. It’s the same for our spectators, our fans. They are so silent for 45 minutes,” he said after the 4-2 comeback win against Tottenham Hotspur.
The irony is that these energetic public barbs have come while the style on the field has been the most conservative of his entire career.
Mesmeric, sometimes repetitive, passing patterns have always been a hallmark of Guardiola teams, but this season, more than ever, they have slowed the game down.
Preferred wingers Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez are excellent technical players lacking the dynamism previous incumbents Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus possessed.
“You have to bring the ball to their half and make twenty thousand million passes, that’s the only way,” he has said in the past.
The trouble is, currently, those passes are delivering neither goals nor excitement.
It’s worth pointing out that Guardiola’s beef this season has largely been about intensity, it’s not that the plan is wrong, it’s the execution.
Perhaps this latest public attack can be the thing that sparks the side back into life.
Even if it doesn’t we can be assured Guardiola’s approach will not be to step back but push forward.
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