Pep Guardiola brushed off the biggest Champions League failure of his managerial career by insisting he has never felt so powerful as a coach.
The Manchester City manager said he received the full backing of Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the club’s chairman, in the wake of their Champions League round of 16 exit to Monaco.
Guardiola, who had never failed to reach the Champions League semi-finals before, could finish the season without a trophy for the first time in eight seasons as a manager if City do not win the FA Cup.
But the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach said he had never experienced such empowerment and had been emboldened by the steadfast support of City’s hierarchy since his team threw away a two-goal advantage to bow out on away goals to Monaco after a 6-6 aggregate scoreline.
“I received a text message from him [al-Mubarak] the day after [Monaco],” Guardiola said ahead of City’s crucial Premier League at home to Liverpool.
Asked what the chairman’s reaction was, the Catalan said: “What do you believe? He prefers to win the Champions League, he was not there [at the game] but he is always close [to me]. A few times in my career I felt [this] with Joan Laporta, my old [Barcelona] president.
“So I always feel he [al-Mubarak] is always there, so close to the team, so close to me, but he knows and I know better than him how it works when that result happens. Always we are going to take a decision but I always feel in the good moments and bad moments, especially in the bad moments, [that support]. I saw his reaction [and] I am really impressed. I appreciate that a lot.”
City’s Champions League elimination has increased the pressure on Guardiola to ensure the team finish in the top four, and they face a critical run of games, with the visit of Liverpool followed by matches away to Arsenal and Liverpool after the international break. But Guardiola has been reassured by the reaction from City’s powerbrokers.
“I met the big boss Sheikh Mansour [the City owner] in Abu Dhabi and I know the plan, it’s a team that took the next step seven years ago and we are thinking about getting better,” he said.
“I want to be involved in that as much as possible and to help my team to make the next step and I have more power than ever in my life as a manager. For me, it’s a big challenge and I want to deal with that, I want to see myself if I am able to do that. That is my impression.”
Guardiola also conceded that it will take him longer than he hoped to transform City's fortunes as a club and believes he faces arguably the biggest test of his managerial career.
"In terms of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, when you talk about these kind of teams, it’s a big disaster when they don’t win. I knew that," he said. "Here I didn’t think that, but it is a big disaster when you don’t win as well. It will take more time to put the team that I want.
"In the other clubs for many other reasons it was little bit closer, here it will take more time.
"It’s the first time in my career as a manager when I feel that now is the moment you have to see yourself like a manager. That’s the first time. For the other ones, I was so lucky managing and training big clubs. Now is the first time I want to help the team so people say ‘Wow, Pep could do that again at a team in England and at Manchester City’. I love this club and want to be here for a long, long time."
Vincent Kompany was omitted from City’s squad against Monaco despite being fully fit and is also expected to miss out against Liverpool but Guardiola said he had not included his captain against the French league leaders because he could not guarantee he would emerged unscathed. “He was a long time injured and sometimes he played but was injured again so I could risk him and not be so sure [he would last],” the City manager said. “I would like more time to be sure.”
Guardiola suggested Kompany would join up with Belgium’s squad next week ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Greece and a friendly against Russia but, in another example of the cross-communication between City and the Belgian national side, that option was dismissed by Roberto Martinez. “Now it is important we don’t bring him in if he’s not fully ready and not fully match fit,” the Belgium coach said. “That is the decision. We want him here so, yes, it’s a difficult decision but in the same [sense] we need to protect him and allow him to be back in full fitness.”
Martinez also said that Kompany “has been fully fit now for a long time in training without having the match competition” in another sign of how far the centre-half – who could be sold in the summer - has fallen down the pecking order at City under Guardiola.