- Manchester City introduced their new manager to the press on Friday
- Pep Guardiola spoke of the challenge ahead of him at the Etihad Stadium
- The Spaniard only knows about life in the Premier League anecdotally
- He spoke about his role with City in the manner of an innocent abroad
- His words were in strict contrast to those of great rival Jose Mourinho
For a man who is meant to be the answer to Manchester City’s prayers, the bearer of all their hopes, dreams and ambitions, there was something of the innocent abroad in Pep Guardiola.
‘It begins’ is the hashtag that City have used to promote the grand unveiling. But what begins, exactly?
Guardiola is a novice in the English game, as he admitted. His next match in England will be his first — against Sunderland, and Sam Allardyce, on August 13.
Pep Guardiola poses in front of the Etihad Stadium on Friday as he is formally introduced to the media
Guardiola has acknowledged the task at hand at Manchester City as he takes the reins ahead of the new term
The Spaniard has enjoyed immense success at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich prior to taking the job
‘The Big Sam’, Guardiola called him when asked about the match. So he is clearly learning. It would be naive to think a professional of his quality will be unprepared; equally, it would be blasé to presume a stellar c.v. can be deployed as a shield if the bullets fly.
On Tuesday, Jose Mourinho was unveiled at Old Trafford, every bit the Premier League’s old hand. He has coached five full seasons here, plus fragments of two more, and won three titles in that time. It is fair to say he knows the score.
Mourinho has spoken with relish of England’s demands: the intense holiday fixture programmes, the two domestic cup competitions, replays, the relentless slog of a Premier League campaign.
Guardiola knows the English game through anecdotes only — and the odd visit on European nights, which are hardly representative of a trip to Middlesbrough in February.
‘Here will be completely different,’ said Guardiola. ‘When I see a guy who played in England, like Xabi Alonso, I’m asking, ‘Tell me about England, tell me about the Premier League’. I never found one person who said, ‘Oh, it will be easy for you’.
Despite his impressive c.v. Guardiola still has a lot to learn about the culture of English football
He accepts that it will take time for him to assimilate himself to a different footballing climate
Guardiola is set to reignite his rivalry with new Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho this season
While Mourinho was combative in his opening press conference at Old Trafford, Guardiola was more subdued
‘They all said it’s tough. I don’t know why. That’s what I want to discover. The big clubs go to wherever, they’re soft in a game and are able to lose. I don’t know why. I have to discover that for myself. I have to see that.’
No doubt this was all part of the attraction. Guardiola is determined to take on English football, all its challenges, complexities, flaws and foibles. He is clear on that; he just doesn’t know the extent of the task as yet.
He spoke of playing on Boxing Day with a barely contained fascination. It is almost amusing, the mythical status the Premier League’s Christmas programme enjoys abroad.
So this is a man happily removed from his comfort zone.
This is what he wanted — the opportunity to prove his talent in an alien, often inhospitable environment.
Admirable that he has no desire for an easy life, but those who regarded Guardiola as a sure bet at City came away from Friday’s ceremony more willing to hedge.
Not that he wasn’t impressive. He is clearly a charismatic, compelling, coach.
But he is also a man experiencing the newness of the English game, at a club in need of rebuilding, at a time when the Premier League is as wide open as it has ever been.
On his first appearance in front of the media as City boss, the Spaniard was charismatic and compelling
Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Ronald Koeman, Slaven Bilic, Mauricio Pochettino, Claudio Ranieri: they can’t all win.
With the enthusiasm of a novice, however, Guardiola gave the first indication that he might be willing to stay for more than three years. Previously, that is the limit he has set on terms of employment.
Here, he spoke of four, and maybe more, depending on circumstances. It raised the prospect that Guardiola could be one of those foreign coaches — like Mourinho, like Wenger — who come to England and fall in love.
We shall see.
What was obvious throughout his conversations was the unique perception of English football abroad.
Guardiola said he had mapped out no career plan and made no secret of the influence of his ally Txiki Begiristain, the director of football at City, in his decision — but added that he would have come to England eventually, even if he did not see a friendly face at the club.
He spoke of the importance of Mikel Arteta, who has joined the City coaching staff from Arsenal
And Guardiola made no secret of the influence of Txiki Begiristain, City director of football, in his decision to join the club
The greatest players might have deserted England, but the Premier League exerts a mysterious pull on the best coaches.
‘I came as a player two or three times to see this atmosphere in England,’ recalled Guardiola.
‘Then, as a coach I came many times, and said, ‘Wow this is really good’. I never go to stadiums where it is freezing and windy, so I say why not come, why not play good when it is freezing and windy? That is a target for me, a personal ambition that I want to prove.
‘I’ll need a bit of time to discover the style of play here. I think it’ll be more physical. When I played here with Barcelona, it was different physically, so strong.
‘But the tricky bits — how you can play or finding a way to get your team to do what it needs to win — there are some special things I have to learn as quickly as possible. I need to speak to the English people at the club, like Mikel Arteta and Brian Kidd.
‘Arteta will be very, very important. We’ve been studying what the Premier League means, how we defend, how we attack. He’s got 12 or 13 years between Scotland and here, he knows what Boxing Day means.
‘I won’t make any decisions before talking with him. Brian Kidd knows the club perfectly, he knows the league, he’s helping me get to know the players. It’s all about getting to know the Premier League, what English football means and what the players can do.
Guardiola will come up against Sunderland in his first Premier League test and he described Sam Allardyce as ‘The Big Sam’ when he addressed the prospect of his bow in English football
He will come up against top European coaches (left to right) Antonio Conte, Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp
‘To come to the country that created football and believe you have to change something would be a little presumptuous. I’m sorry, I’m not good enough to change everything, to change the mentality of a club that is 120 years old.
‘I trust a lot in myself. I think I am able to do the job but I don’t come here thinking I can change the culture of England.
‘We are going to play the way I like because I am able to convince players that this is the best way. It won’t be easy because we need time — but we don’t have time.
‘People don’t expect to wait until January or February to see how good we are; they expect that from the first friendly game. It was the same in Barcelona, the same in Munich.
‘This could be the biggest challenge because Manchester City haven’t won as many titles as Barcelona or Bayern Munich — but the real challenge is to prove yourself.
‘I was lucky to train two clubs with amazing players and we won a lot of titles in a short time. So now there is so much expectation. We will try.’
That is the test: to match, among others, a notorious front-runner in Mourinho, who has won two of his three titles in English football leading almost from the opening day of the season, and has bought well this summer — and incredibly well if he now wins the battle for Paul Pogba.
Guardiola takes over at City from Manuel Pellegrini, who was highly thought-of by supporters at the club
Manchester City’s new manager can manage a hint of a smile during his press conference on Friday
Guardiola knows what it’s like to work in pressure-cooker environments at the Nou Camp and Allianz Arena
Conte is unburdened by European football at Chelsea, Wenger has close to two decades of Premier League experience on the new man. This is a congested field.
Plus, Guardiola has the complication of a Champions League qualifying round, just days after the Premier League campaign begins.
‘That is our priority — we are not in the competition yet,’ he said.
Earlier, he had spoken of not meeting Manchester United in Europe this season, because they are in a different tournament.
Ouch. He didn’t mean it as a jibe, though. Plainly, Thursday night football was not part of any scheme. Mourinho had made clear it wasn’t part of Manchester United’s future, either, after this season.
He claimed that life as the head coach at Barcelona is ‘demanding like you cannot imagine’
No doubt Conte has been instructed to make an immediate return, while Wenger has an admirable record of top-four finishes to maintain and Klopp is not content with second tier European football at Liverpool and Pochettino — on it goes.
So something has to give. Every club think they have secured the best manager, and with Leicester the title-holders, every manager believes he has the wit to be this season’s champion.
In this context, Guardiola was asked about the pressure of his first year in England.
‘It is demanding in Barcelona like you cannot imagine,’ he insisted.
‘You cannot imagine. You cannot survive there if you don’t win. I survived four years because the first year I won. If not, I would be sacked.’
Yet he was on familiar territory in Spain.
He knew the course, he knew the distance, he knew the culture, he knew the philosophy.
It is only two hours by jet, but suddenly Guardiola seems a long way from home.
It remains to be seen whether he can add further success to an already impressive managerial record