It is worth revisiting Pep Guardiola’s early words, voiced at his Manchester City unveiling. It was Guardiola at his most charming and his most humble, portraying himself as part servant, part teacher. City, the club mocked for using the word “holistic” in their explanation for sacking the shopaholic Roberto Mancini in 2013, seemed to have found the manager who bought into their philosophy.
Fourteen months and some £370 million later, Guardiola has made nine major signings, a total that would have become 11 on deadline day had Arsenal not blocked a £60 million move for Alexis Sanchez and had City freed up the funds to sign Jonny Evans.
The chances are that he will face questions this week if he has enough recruits, if he has been left frustrated by transfer-market disappointments and if he will bid again for Sanchez in January or next summer. He will be probably provide more diplomatic answers than the outspoken Mancini, but they will be the same sort of issues the Italian addressed five seasons ago, normally in ways that antagonised his employers.
Guardiola is entitled to point out that his inheritance was deeply flawed. Three years on, it remains remarkable director of football Txiki Begiristain signed Eliaquim Mangala. The ungainly Frenchman is so clearly an imperfect fit for a Guardiola side and City were so obviously hoping to hire the Catalan that it would have been odd at any price, let alone £42 million. Now, with the mooted move for Evans collapsing, Guardiola finds himself with Mangala as one of his centre-backs.
Meanwhile, the need to recruit full-backs was apparent when he was appointed even if their arrival was delayed for a year. He was not bequeathed as many world-class players as he was at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Continuity was less of an option.
Yet it is worth remembering that he was supposed to be different. He was the training-ground coach, not the chequebook manager. He made a solitary major signing, Thiago Alcantara, in his first summer at Bayern. He was busier when he took over the Barcelona job but, Dani Alves apart, largely eschewed big names. They were more likely to leave than arrive. He promoted the untried Sergio Busquets, bought the comparatively cheap Gerard Pique and won the Treble. It was, as Guillem Balague’s biography of him was subtitled, “another way of winning.” It was not dependent on vast funds.
At City, meanwhile, he stands accused of choosing a way Mancini would have recognised. Sign Arsenal’s best player, and arguably the finest in the league? Mancini wanted to do that in 2012, but Robin van Persie went to Manchester United instead. Guardiola, with more backing from the clubs powerbrokers, targeted Sanchez.
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Both would have been purchases for the pragmatists and the purists alike, superb players who could change the complexion of title races. Yet it is a moot point if City really required Van Persie in 2012 – they had scored 93 league goals the previous season and already had Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli – just as, while Guardiola wanted Sanchez, it is harder to claim he needed him. Not with Aguero and Gabriel Jesus competing for the striker’s spot and a host of others who can operate on the wings.
And without Sanchez, Guardiola ought to return to his supposed USP: to working at City’s £200 million training complex and coaching players better than anyone else. There is no doubt he remains an original thinker with ambitious ideas; there are times when his brain seems to be working twice as quickly as everyone else’s. He has a perfectionist’s frustration when his schemes do not succeed, and perhaps that has led him to seek solace in retail therapy.
Borussia Dortmund have signed Manchester City’s Jadon Sancho, MCFC academy’s brightest prospect.
Pep Guardiola’s youth movement paying off.
— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) August 31, 2017
Perhaps he can look at Saturday’s opponent as a role model. Jurgen Klopp has had the advantage of nine months’ extra time in England, but it is indisputable that plenty of Liverpool players have reached a new level under the German. Look at Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can for examples. Guardiola was hired in part because of a record of trusting young players. Klopp is likelier to give Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Dominic Solanke more minutes this season than their City counterparts, some of whom have been sold or loaned out.
And Klopp is scornful of the English idea that transfers are the answer to everything. Guardiola long seemed a soulmate in that respect. Now, shorn of Sanchez, he ought to concentrate on the coaching skills that forged him a reputation as one of the greats. Because titles can be won by managers, and not just by players.