Pep Guardiola ‘honoured’ by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s praise – now he wants to build Barcelona 2.0

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with Phil Foden

Pep Guardiola could briefly bask in the glowing praise from new Manchester United co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, as he prepared for Sunday’s Etihad derby, although the City manager’s gaze was very much on the future and the prospect of emulating Barcelona, in one specific area.

Ratcliffe, 71, claimed in his first interviews after taking over football affairs at United that the greatest performance he had ever seen was produced not by the club he had supported as a child and bought a 27.7 per cent stake in, but by Guardiola and City in sweeping aside Read Madrid in last season’s Champions League.

It was a startling confession from the lifelong United supporter, a witness to so many great moments in his team’s history, and one which raised a smile from the City manager.

“It is [a compliment] – and I just can say: ‘Thank you so much,’” said Guardiola.

“Sometimes it is much more than a title when the compliments of personalities that make this country. Sir Jim Ratcliffe made those comments and it is completely an honour for all of us.

“At the end, football can produce emotions and feelings for the players and when our rivals accept this it helps us so much to do our job. So thank you so much. I say that on behalf of all of us.

Bernardo Silva scores for Man City

“But I am sure tomorrow they will try to inoculate the United players with the best performance they can to try and beat us.”

But when he allowed his sights to focus beyond Sunday’s derby, Guardiola also allowed himself to consider one area in which City are rapidly catching United and, possibly, even his old Barcelona team.

United’s youth production line is, arguably, the most consistent and productive in football history. When Erik ten Hag names an academy graduate in his match-day squad on Sunday, as he inevitably will, it will continue a United record which dates back to 1937.

In more recent seasons, for all the injection of cash and big-name signings, City have caught up with their rivals in youth development, with Norwegian international Oscar Bobb, who has joined Phil Foden and Rico Lewis in Guardiola’s first team this season, signing a new five-year deal just this week.

It raises the prospect of City one day matching the great Barcelona team of Guardiola’s era which won two Champions Leagues, coincidentally against United, with a majority of homegrown talent such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and of course Lionel Messi.

Messi and Iniesta with the European Cup
Pep Guardiola's first Champions League-winning side had a core of homegrown players, notably Leo Messi and Andres Iniesta at the core - Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

“We’d love it,” said Guardiola. “I remember in Barcelona we played two Champions League finals against United and seven of them were from the academy.

“What does it mean? Zero! We didn’t get any profit because they were so good and we didn’t sell them. But that is the dream. Players who love the club, born here.

“Sometimes it’s not possible because foreign players are so good. Erling Haaland is from Norway. We’d love to have Erling from the academy but you have to invest.

“We’ve sold a lot of young players in the last year who make us sustainable but maybe they could play here, we’ll never know. In that moment they want to start to play and every situation is different.”

City’s success in developing players has not only produced current squad members but also helped balance the books with every summer seeing a steady trickle of departures. Cole Palmer’s £42.5 million sale to Chelsea is the most high-profile recent example but Southampton have signed six players from City’s academy in fewer than two years.

Shea Charles
Shea Charles is one of six City academy graduates who have been sold for pure profit to Southampton since the summer of 2022 - Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

And with the current strict interpretation of the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules, Guardiola admits there is more emphasis than ever on the academy conveyor belts, both to enhance first-team squads and, also, generate income.

The City manager also sees a less tangible advantage in a successful academy, however.

“It’s more sustainable for the clubs and we had that feeling always, I don’t know why, that academy players who grew up here have something special that always works – don’t ask me why - it always works,” he said.

“There are players here but look what the players at Southampton have done, and Cole in Chelsea, and Tosin in Fulham, for example.

“So, always, they are stable.The academy works really well, and allies processes, every day for many years working really well. And this is every time, it’s a little bit a drop of something in your body that you understand the game, you understand many things, the culture, whatever.

“When you run with young players it always works, don’t ask me why, but it always works. It happened here, happened at the academy in Barcelona, and Madrid, even Bayern Munich.

“The clubs I have been, the young players always they have something and now with this situation, financial fair play, you are right – it’s a way to be sustainable and it works.”

Erik ten Hag would doubtless agree with those sentiments, especially given the spectacular development of his 18-year-old midfielder Kobbie Mainoo this season. And Guardiola admits that having local players in a dressing room can add a little something to derby day.

“I think they know the reality. They have been many times in the Etihad Stadium,” he said. “They see the environment, they smell what is happening in the club, and they adapt quicker.

“Foreign players come, or from other clubs, and they need a little bit of time to adapt. Here, it’s like it’s a home. They know the reaction of the fans, they feel comfortable, the way they have to play and it clicks quick.

“It happens, you’re right, and I’m pretty sure United players, or Liverpool players, or Chelsea players, they have something. I think they believe: ‘It belongs to me, it’s mine, it’s my home.’

“So you want to protect. Going from the academy to the first team gives them confidence. It’s easy.”