Print Edition - 2018-04-17 | Sports
Perfectionist Pep delivers Manchester masterpiece
- english premier league
Apr 17, 2018-
Less than 12 months ago Pep Guardiola feared he could be facing the sack at Manchester City after his first trophyless season in an almost impeccable coaching career.
Now he has added to three league titles in both Spain and Germany by conquering England in a style that has provoked comparisons with the greatest sides ever seen in the Premier League. Used to the highest of demands from his spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola believed other clubs may have been more ruthless after City finished 15 points behind Chelsea in third in the Premier League last season.
But City were never likely to cut Guardiola adrift so quickly having waited so long to land him in the first place. That patience has been rewarded in spectacular fashion as City wrapped up the title with five games to spare to match Manchester United’s record for the earliest Premier League title win in 2000-2001. While Guardiola has admitted to doubts over his future last season, he never wavered in way he wanted his side to play.
“Last season many times when I was asked—it works to play my way and I said ‘I am going to insist’, I never had a doubt about that,” Guardiola said recently. Mocked at times in the British media for stating he does not train players how to tackle, questions were raised whether Guardiola’s style, learned at the knee of the legendary Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, was compatible with more physical approach of the Premier League.
“For those of us brought up on those ideas, who have internalised them so deeply, it’s like a religion,” former Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez told the Guardian newspaper of his old coach. “Pep is a purist.” Guardiola has proven his point, but he had to show a ruthless streak of his own along the way.
Claudio Bravo’s series of costly errors in goal saw him replaced by the excellent Ederson to give City a far more stable platform from which to build. Critics point to the enormous sums City have splashed on players before and during Guardiola’s reign, with nearly £500 million spent on transfer fees in the past two seasons alone. But the secret to Guardiola’s success is also taking the raw talent at his disposal and harnessing it into something even more special.
“A manager like that brings the best out of you, he makes sure to tell you when you’re in the wrong,” said Raheem Sterling, who has finally delivered on his potential, scoring 21 goals this season. While moulding the prodigious talents of Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, Guardiola has also kept City’s old guard from two previous Premier League title triumphs.
Forced to battle for his place in the team with Jesus, City’s all-time top scorer Sergio Aguero described the Catalan as the best coach he has ever had after netting in the League Cup final in February to deliver Guardiola’s first trophy at City. His magic comes from a mix of relentless work on the training ground and intensive study of his opponents.
In the book “Pep Confidential” chronicling Guardiola’s first season at Bayern, Catalan author Marti Perarnau describes Guardiola’s process of burying himself in his study for hours until he finds his “eureka” moment of how to defeat opposition. “He is obsessive, he would keep going until he got it right,” added Xavi. “He demands so much from himself. And that pressure that he puts on himself, those demands are contagious—it spreads to everyone. He wants everything to be perfect.”
Having beaten all before him at Barca and Bayern, Guardiola now has his masterpiece in Manchester too.
Five key players
MANCHESTER: Manchester City sealed the Premier League title on Sunday when local rivals Manchester United suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat to West Brom. Much of the praise has gone to manager Pep Guardiola for moulding a side
being compared to the greatest-ever teams to win the English top flight. But backed by free-spending Abu Dhabi owners, Guardiola has had plenty of talent to work with.
A look at five of the key players in City’s title triumph.
Guardiola showed his ruthless streak after a disappointing first campaign in charge, snapping up goalkeeper Ederson for £35 million within three weeks of the end of the season. Much of the blame for Guardiola’s first-season struggles was pinned on a series of errors from Claudio Bravo, brought from Barcelona to replace the ostracised Joe Hart. In contrast to Bravo, Ederson has been solid when called upon to make saves. But, crucially, he is even better with his feet, which suits Guardiola’s style. The Brazilian’s long-range passing to launch City on the counter-attack and beat any high press employed by opponents has been a regular feature of the season, adding another weapon to City’s frightening attacking arsenal.
Kevin De Bruyne
The man most often picked out by Guardiola himself as the heartbeat of this City side, Kevin De Bruyne looks set to battle with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah for the Premier League player of the year awards. The Belgian leads the league in assists but he offers far more than raw numbers. “He is the best example and he helps us to be a better club, a better institution for the future,” Guardiola said after De Bruyne led a 4-1 destruction of Tottenham Hotspur in November.
If De Bruyne doesn’t get you, David Silva likely will. Having two natural playmakers in the same midfield has made City almost impossible to stop in the same way Guardiola harnessed the brilliant best from Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in a glorious four-year spell at Barcelona from 2008 to 2012. “I think David is also one of the best this season,” said De Bruyne. “Since I came here he has been unbelievable. He helped my game in a lot of ways.” Silva has also chipped in with his share of important goals—opening the scoring in the first Manchester derby of the season at Old Trafford.
The beneficial effects of Guardiola’s coaching are clear-cut in the case of Raheem Sterling as the 23-year-old has come of age this season to deliver on his abundant potential. The England international is City’s second-highest scorer behind Sergio Aguero but his goals have also come at some key moments on their road to the title. Guardiola’s men were on course to drop points in two of their opening three games until Sterling’s 97th-minute winner at Bournemouth back in August kicked off an 18-match winning run in the league.
In Man City’s mega-rich era, managers and players have come and gone but one constant has largely remained—Sergio Aguero’s goalscoring. The Argentine star, who joined the club in 2011, is now City’s all-time leading goalscorer and has enjoyed another bumper season. Initially challenged for his place in the team by Gabriel Jesus when the Brazilian arrived last January, Aguero has reestablished himself as City’s number one striker.
Published: 17-04-2018 08:52