Today was a first for me; I read an article written by Stan Collymore. I must admit, upon completion of reading the heavily edited jumble of words designed to coax a tirade of abuse from a supporter base still fragile from their side’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal, I did consider going down the unoriginal route and unearthing the former footballer’s rather controversial past. But after calming down and lowering my clenched fists, I opted for this more considered response.
To give a brief summary, Collymore states that Pep Guardiola should have done more with the squad at his disposal and rates his first season in charge as ‘no more than a three or four out of 10’. Even if Collymore’s slightly conceited tone does pinch a little, there’s not much to disagree with there. Crashing out of the Champions League in the last 16, failing to reach a cup final and fighting to finish in the top four as opposed to battling for the Premier League title equates to failure at a club like Manchester City, no matter who is in charge.
To conclude that Guardiola has not lived up to expectations this season is by no means a proclamation of a lack of faith in the Catalan, it is simply a statement of fact. For some the two go hand in hand, with any criticism of the manager being pounced upon Order 66 style, expressions of disappointment being mistranslated into a lack of support. What’s been very clear since Guardiola took over is that he has a cult-like following like no other coach in world football who will defend him to the death, but those who believe Pep can do no wrong need to take a step back and accept that his first season in England has been less than impressive.
So criticism of Guardiola is justified – he’d admit that himself. The angle Collymore takes, however, is not. Put in Sheikh Mansour’s shoes, Collymore says he’d be inclined to tell Pep “You’re supposed to be the world’s best manager. Go and make these players much, much better, in the way Claudio Ranieri did with Leicester and Antonio Conte has done with Chelsea.”
It’s the ‘world’s best manager’ tag that gets me every time. It’s as if the man sat down in his first City press conference, gave the audience a smug wink and boastfully professed to be ‘The Special One’. While the fella who actually did all of those things is being celebrated for ultimately conducting a season a side like Southampton would be immensely proud of at a club with the biggest turnover in world football, Guardiola’s ability as a football manager is being questioned because he is not living up to a tag put on him by people, ironically like Collymore, in the media.
On top of that, Pep HAS made members of this squad ‘much, much better’. Other than Leroy Sané, Collymore disagrees. Though from a man who once suggested Bayern Munich’s Toni Kroos could be off to United because he had been ‘in and out of the side’ when, actually, he’d played in 18 out of a possible 18 games for the Germans at the time of speaking, I’d question whether the former Liverpool forward has a basis of comparison here. I’m guessing the Bundesliga isn’t Stan’s forte.
Not to dismiss Sané’s efforts but Raheem Sterling, Sergio Agüero, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been more obvious recipients of Pep’s magic touch. From supposedly the only reason England performed so poorly at Euro 2016 to a dynamic, fearless winger with 9 goals, 9 assists and 18 take-ons inside the box, Sterling has arguably been City’s player of the season. As for Agüero, Silva and De Bruyne, all three have been forced to improve their work-rate and contribute in deeper positions. All four players are now more well-rounded individuals capable of helping the team in a number of different roles.
As for the defence where things have looked bleak for City this term, improving Gaël Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta, as much as I love them, would require more of a resuscitation job than any genius coaching methods. They will be areas that Guardiola will prioritise in this summer’s transfer window.
And that Pep has not only the July window, but many windows after that, to assemble a trophy-winning squad will excite City supporters. Unfortunately it has become fashionable to ignore the fact that Pep has a three-year contract, with judgements being made as if the 46-year-old was hired to perform a one-year miracle. Expectations of a three time La Liga, three time Bundesliga and two-time European champion were always going to be ludicrously high but even people like Pep need time. Stan seems to disagree: “Only if Guardiola took a Blackburn, a Swansea, a Hull and made them a success would I fully buy into his hype”. I suppose the same goes for the Ancelotti’s and the Luis Enrique’s then?
Deli Alli, Benjamin Mendy and Alexis Sánchez are the names City could target but if Collymore had it his way he’d be telling Guardiola to work with the squad he’s got. “It seems Guardiola is just saying “I’ll get it right eventually… as long as you give me a quarter of a billion quid,” says Collymore, presumably unaware that Guardiola has never, ever mentioned anything of the sort, and that he once called on Arsenal to spend more money because Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil are not ‘of the highest level’. If those two players aren’t of the highest level, Stan, then why should City persist with players like Jesús Navas, Clichy and Kolarov. It stinks of double standards.
Pep Guardiola may have failed this season, but for him to be held to a higher standard than any other manager in the league is unfair. Both he and this Manchester City project deserve time.