Guardiola accepts tenure will be judged on Champions League success
Control: if Manchester City do not achieve this versus RB Leipzig on Tuesday then their Champions League fate will be a toss of a coin, according to Pep Guardiola, as he plots a route beyond the Bundesliga’s third-placed side into the quarter-finals.
The tie is poised at 1-1 as Marco Rose’s side arrives at the Etihad Stadium for a high-stakes night. Guardiola, who has a fully fit squad, is concerned that an open contest would mean less chance of progression, having reviewed the opening leg.
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“In the first half we were better. In the second half they were better,” he says. “We saw the game [again] and we’ve tried to figure out what we are going to do. We’ll try to adjust a few things that will maybe help us to have more control and play a bit better.
“I believe in transition games it is always [the toss of] a coin. It can go in your favour or [not] but it is a knockout game and maybe we need to break more of the game, maybe we don’t. We will see. In the end the game will dictate what we have to do.”
Despite Guardiola always being questioned about his failure to lead City to Champions League victory he is fond of the competition. “It’s lovely: playing teams from another part of Europe, not the same ones as England. It’s special, so nice to show our club all around Europe,” he says.
City are second in the Premier League – five points behind Arsenal – and host Burnley in the FA Cup sixth round on Saturday before the international break with the manager intent on his side remaining in all three competitions.
“It is really important,” says Guardiola. “Not just that it would be a bad break, but to be alive for the last two and a half months of the season, extend our stay in the competitions, be close to Arsenal, will be good.
“That’s why we are here: to win trophies. I don’t know any manager or player who doesn’t want to win.”
Guardiola is adamant his City era will be judged on whether the Champions League is won. “It’s public opinion. It doesn’t mean I agree with that, but, absolutely, I’ll be judged on that. Since I arrived here, ahead of the first game in the Champions League, the first time sitting before the media, people said I was here to win the Champions League. I said: ‘What?’
“If I was manager of Real Madrid – that is not going to happen – I could understand it, but here, I don’t know. But I accept it. As much as I go through it’s not going to change that.”
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Kevin De Bruyne offers a similar, phlegmatic stance when asked whether not triumphing in Europe’s blue-riband club competition would be a regret. “Not really – I don’t regret the things I do,” he says.
“Whatever competition I enter I try to win it. You lose way more than you win but luckily I’ve been able to win a lot.”
He is not annoyed at the ongoing theme of City in the Champions League. “If you care about the noise then it’s going to annoy people a little bit,” he says. “We’ve not won it but we’ve done really well in the Champions League and I know people base everything on only winning.
“Obviously I want to win it, but I know as long as we don’t I’ll get the same questions and I’m fine because people judge you on that. We just try to win these games and be the best people and team we can be.”
At 31 De Bruyne is not considering when retirement may arrive. “I’m a perfectionist,” he says. “Whatever I do in football or life, I will always want it to be 100%. In that regard, if the time would come that is something I would think about, but it’s not necessarily now.
“At this particular time I would like to stay at as high a level as possible for as long as possible, but that isn’t only my decision. I don’t know how long I’m going to play. As long as I’m having fun I will play football.”