Everyone connected with Manchester City is more than just excited about the upcoming season. It’s incomparable to anything many of us have felt before. From my point of view, as a twenty-three year old Blue, Pep Guardiola is far and away the most inspiring choice for a manager that City have hired in my lifetime. I can’t speak for the older generation, but if I were to hazard a guess, I would imagine that that statement rings true for many of us. He is truly the Blockbuster attraction. So, when you read the title of this piece, it’s easy to see why Pep could be the unanimous feature. However, I wanted to take a look at some of elements that may or may not be present as a result of Pep. Here are my five things to look forward to this season…
A Connection with the Fans
A month or two back, I wrote a piece regarding how Pep would settle in at City. One of the biggest points that I tried to make in that piece was that he would be afforded more time to do his job effectively if he were to forge a strong relationship with the fans. It sounds obvious, I know. But, if you consider how it is for the players, sometimes the difference between frustrated murmurs from the fans and a genuine encouragement can depend on how that player has connected himself to the fan-base. In my opinion, it’s not too different for a manager. You only need to look at the ways in which Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini left the club to see a vast difference in response from the fans. The Italian was a fan favourite, he oozed passion and was adored by the masses. Ultimately, his departure was met with complaints and even protests from some. Manuel Pellegrini on the other hand divided opinion. He never had a particularly strong relationship with the fans, and that showed following the final home game of this season, as the majority of Blues exited the stadium for his farewell speech.
So Pep? Why do I suspect after only ten days that his connection with the fans will be one of the positive aspects of this season? Simply put, he’s laid out the groundwork. He’s made his intentions clear. On only his second official day as boss, he said that his intention was to make the fans proud. Sure, every manager probably wishes to do so, but saying it goes a long way. It tells us that he understands, he knows we are there. We’re not an elephant in the room, he’s very conscious of the supporters and wishes to put together a successful team for us. This kind of groundwork suggests that Pep will be the people’s manager, and may well be one of the most exciting and relatable things about his tenure.
This particular ‘benefit’ of Pep is already in full swing, but it’s something that I believe will continue throughout his spell in charge, perhaps more so as we move forward. City (finally) have what feels like a genuine pedigree in the transfer market. Granted, we’ve had the big bucks since 2008, but contrary to what many of people believe, money isn’t everything. Not every player on the planet will join a club purely for money. This one might sting a little bit guys, but money has been a primary factor in our success, and you’re foolish to claim otherwise. Dare I say, the likes of Robinho mightn’t have been quite so keen to play in Manchester had it not been for the monster wages he was surely offered. Don’t get me wrong, as time as gone on, the prospect of playing in sky blue has become a very attractive thought for footballers up and down the globe, and not just because of the money. But, we must admit, it got us here. Either way, we’re here now.
Perhaps the only thing (with the exception of European success) that has eluded Sheikh Mansour era has been a world-class manager. With Pep, we finally have that, and the pulling power he possesses is arguably unrivalled in football. For the first time ever, you get the impression that a player might actually leave a Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich to join the revolution at the Etihad. We can kid ourselves all we want, but before Pep, it’s hard to see why most players would have jumped from one of those incredibly successful and decorated football clubs to join us, but now the thought isn’t quite so ludicrous. It finally feels as if the manager alone could be the deciding factor in securing new recruits, and knowing how much we all love a new superstar, it’s hard not to get excited about that.
Now, I don’t know if you know this – but I’m a bit of a Raheem Sterling fan. ‘The Hated One’ certainly divides opinion, and I’m not talking about up and down the country. City fans too, often find themselves on a very different side of the fence to fellow Blues regarding the 21-year-old winger. Don’t mistake me for someone who thinks Raheem had an outstanding year last year – he didn’t. He was alright. He scored some goals, assisted some too, but consistency? There was none. However, Sterling is a young guy, and the way some of our fans bury his chances after 12 months in Blue, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a veteran. He will have poor games this season, he’ll have games where he doesn’t look like a player worth £5, let one alone £50,000,000. But, that’s okay. Remember that. Every player has bad games, don’t be sucked into thinking that Sterling has to be any different because he cost so much. It’s an investment in the future, and if people are able to get off the lad’s back for ten minutes, he might well have a very bright future.
He’s benefitted by now working with the best coach in City’s history, and if Pep can’t do anything with him, then fine – maybe it’s time to move on. Granted, Raheem has work to do, but I truly believe that a confident Raheem Sterling, working in a system that compliments him will prove to be a very effective footballer in the years to come. Confidence stems from encouragement though, so let’s give Sterling a platform on which to build that confidence, rather than heckling him all year and wondering why he looks down in the dumps and lost out on the left-wing.
Interviews and Press Conferences
This is a funny one, because you might be thinking, ‘well Pep isn’t the most outspoken guy in the world, he’s not going to rile everyone up and have plenty to say in front of the camera’. You’re right, and that’s a good thing. Pep had a reputation at Barcelona for keeping it football in front of the lens, even when a certain Portuguese counterpart had plenty to say over in Madrid. He doesn’t go too far the other way though, I envisage a season where if things haven’t gone our way, Pep will tell us why. No hiding, no excuses, just an honest and frank analysis of the game.
At times, Roberto Mancini was repetitive, though he did find a place in our hearts due to his passion, but things couldn’t have been more different with Pellegrini. Dull, monotonous interviews were frequent. An absolute refusal to criticise any aspect of appalling performances. A notion that City ‘played good football’, when in fact we had been completely and utterly played off the park. These were all in trademarks of the Pellegrini era. We may have at last reached a time where a post-match interview or press-conference means something to the fans. An acceptance of a bad performance, the acknowledgement of mistakes, be it management or players. These are things to look out for during the next twelve months and beyond.
Regularly Adapted Tactics and Systems
‘You can’t play two strikers against the top sides, their midfielder will slaughter you.’
‘Do we really need to player five in midfield against
‘Yaya can’t play as part of a two.’
How often did you utter any of these phrases during the last two or three years? I know I may have been guilty here and there. But, you know what? I think I may have occasionally had a point. It’s a problem that started with Roberto Mancini and carried on with Manuel Pellegrini. They didn’t like to mince their tactics or system. Mancini insisted on playing two up top, or playing no wide men, or even going 3-5-2 (disastrous, mostly with that squad). Pellegrini had similar issues, a refusal to stick an extra man in the middle against possession hungry sides, a refusal to play with more firepower against sides who parked the bus, a refusal to drop poor performers. Both managers were stubborn at times. I’m not saying that Pep won’t be here and there. I can’t see Pep abandoning his possession style of play, but you do get the impression that if things aren’t quite working out, he might change things.
There is an opinion amongst many in football that Pep is the genius of the game. Allegedly a studier of everything football, a man who prides himself on his knowledge of the game and his ability to learn. The word ‘learn’ was synonymous with his interview with Noel Gallagher and should excite City fans greatly. The fact that he wants to learn should tell everyone something important. He makes mistakes. He falls over, he gets back up and tries again, this time though, he slightly alters his approach. Pep will bring a dynamism to City, the ability to change things if they aren’t working and tap into the vast knowledge that he has acquired as a manager, coach and player. I believe that the days of repetitive failures are over, you can thank Pep for that in a year.