Two seasons of damp and at times depressing football make you think of the future, and who could blame you? In July, Pep Guardiola will step through the doors at the CFA to begin work as City’s new manager. It’s a change that is associated with a freshness that the club has been in dire need of for a while. Most of us are convinced that Pep was always the long-term plan, and with one of the most impressive résumés in world football, nobody can be surprised with the hierarchy for doing everything in their power to secure the Spaniard’s signature. But, is there any chance of this move disastrously backfiring?
Don’t get me wrong, City would be fools to not at the very least take a chance on Guardiola; he’s had success with every club he’s managed. We’re not talking about the kind of success that some managers would claim either, we’re talking about solid silverware – and a lot of it. If that is any kind of sign of things to come at City, we are in for a treat of the most spectacular kind.
So, where might Pep struggle? Is there any reason to believe that he could, or will? For me, it all comes down to his relationship with the supporters.
A lot of what makes a manager great is his popularity amongst those that love the club the most. Compare our last two managers; their achievements on paper aren’t massively dissimilar, and yet the reaction when they left the club was staggeringly different.
On one hand, you have Roberto Mancini; he ended the rot when he secured the 2011 F.A. Cup. The following season, City lifted their first top-flight title for 44 years, an historic moment. Mancini’s next season was less impressive, City failing to ever really challenge United, who ultimately secured their 20th top-flight title. The season ended with an embarrassing performance against plucky Wigan Athletic in the F.A. Cup final. Mancini was sacked, but it wasn’t without protest. Many fans felt that no only was the decision to fire the Italian a mistake, but also that the way in which the ‘business’ was conducted was nothing short of a disgrace. Fast forward three years, and Manuel Pellegrini is on the way out. He’s not been fired, though it’s hard to imagine he’d be retaining his job if it wasn’t for Pep’s pre-arranged transfer. But, how does perception of the two managers differ?
Simply put, Mancini is a Manchester City legend, he leaves a legacy behind that will be remembered for generations. Pellegrini, on the other hand will exit without such a legacy, and for a large number of supporters, his reign be remembered fondly. So, why so different? Mancini’s relationship with every one of us was far, far stronger. You felt his passion, you knew that he cared. He didn’t walk in front of a camera post-game and make excuses, he often told it exactly the way it needed to be said. Granted, Mancini was sometimes guilty of saying a little too much and being a little too involved (fighting Balotelli probably wasn’t a good move), but you felt the fire in his belly. He’d be up and down the touchline, at times he was enigmatic, but at least he was doing something. Pellegrini falls way too far on the other side of the fence. He’s a nice guy, some might say he’s docile. And following three years in charge did, any of us really feel that connection between the manager and the fans? I know that I didn’t.
So, we move onto Pep – what kind of relationship will he forge with the fans? No matter how good he is, if he fails to make that connection, things might get sticky. Look at Pellegrini – despite three major honours in three years, it wasn’t enough to make most of us feel genuinely sad that he was on his way. His win percentage is pretty hard to argue with, he’s moved us forward as a European side too, and yet to most he isn’t comparable with Mancini. City fans like a character, and that’s what Mancini was. Of course we like to win, but the history of the club isn’t embroiled in winning titles every season. Our heroes aren’t all 30 goal a season strikers; they are icons who left their mark on the club.
The expectation on Pep is huge, from both our supporters and the footballing world alike. Does he need to hit the ground running? I think he might. However, one thing is for certain – a positive relationship with the fans from day one will buy him time, and he’ll need time. Time to build his side, to implement his philosophy and to make meaningful connections with the players. If we raise our expectations too high, too early on it could set Pep up to seriously struggle if things don’t start like a house on fire. Ultimately though, if Pep is more accountable than Pellegrini, he’ll already be in better shape than his predecessor. Patience might not be everyone’s strong point, but defeats that are coupled with honesty and responsibility will enable Pep the time he needs to complete his job effectively. With this, he’ll start to mould his relationship with the fans that’ll be long lasting and hopefully see him leave the people’s champion.