He was headhunted by Manchester City because of his record with Barcelona. He had brought success with style. He would spearhead the ambitious project being planned in Abu Dhabi. And as City indicated their regression on the European stage by crashing out of the Champions League in Monaco, he was to blame.
Not Pep Guardiola. Or rather, not just Pep Guardiola. As the face of the supposed revolution, as the world’s most coveted manager, as a double Champions League winner, as the tactician who saw his side overrun in the first half in the Stade Louis II, as the man who exiled Joe Hart and brought in Claudio Bravo, his part in any setback will not be underplayed. Guardiola is being criticised, Schadenfreude and serious analysis being combined in a pincer movement.
Yet sole culpability does not rest with the Catalan, nor even with the players who sieved six goals against the Ligue Un leaders. Not when Txiki Begiristain’s role is examined. Guardiola has only had eight months to address shortcomings in his squad. Begiristain, over four-and-a-half years in Manchester, has contributed to them.
This season has offered conclusive proof that City’s defence is not fit for purpose at the highest level. Guardiola’s last Champions League win, with Barcelona in 2011, came when conceding nine goals in 13 matches.
In contrast, City conceded 16 goals in their last seven European games. They have let in 15 from eight Premier League meetings with the top seven. In 16 such matches against elite opposition, they have mustered a solitary clean sheet, and that against a Borussia Monchengladbach team now ninth in the Bundesliga. Guardiola argued that attack was the best form of defence against Monaco; perhaps he meant it was the only form he trusted.
Bravo represents Guardiola’s folly and while Willy Caballero arguably emerged from the Monaco tie with reputation enhanced, the penalty specialist is a glorified second-choice goalkeeper. Ahead of the Argentine, however, the structural issues may be Guardiola’s fault, but the personnel issues are largely Begiristain’s responsibility.
The age profile of a squad should be a director of football’s concern and while it made sense to keep high-calibre players in their thirties, such as David Silva and Yaya Toure, it is indictment of one who ought to see the bigger picture that all four full-backs are in their fourth decade. It borders on the staggering that City did not buy a better, younger alternative in either 2015 or 2016.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Guardiola will take blame for Euro exit but Begiristain has no defence after botched buys