In praise of Pep
Pep Guardiola comes across as a decent human being and a good manager of people, not just of football teams. On Saturday evening his (and my) Manchester City side played their first ever European Champions League final. City lost and, by common consent, Guardiola made mistakes in terms of tactics and selection. He did so in good faith but he unarguably owns those mistakes.
(Of course it takes two teams, and the opposition played well and deserved to win; in other words, it's not just about us. I feel contractually obliged to point this out.)
Just to give a brief idea of what a good manager of human beings he is, after one particularly emotional defeat, Pep was asked what his plans were for his team. Did he tell them to snap out of it, shake it straight out of their systems, with other big matches coming up soon? No, he replied, he told his players to go home and feel that sharp sadness for 24 hours, then to come in to training refreshed and looking ahead to the next match.
This, remember, is a man who has made his millions — he owns a restaurant in Manchester and lives in a swanky apartment in town. He could easily settle for an easy life. But no, he chooses to stand on muddy touchlines every three or four days and test himself and his tactical nous.
A friend texted me after the big match on Saturday to offer commiserations on the result, but then suggested that Pep 'had to go' because he'd failed to land the big prize. The argument goes that he'd been brought in by the owners to win that Cup (referred to glibly by some in the media as the holy grail — see point 8 below), had failed and therefore no longer had any business being our manager. I firmly told my friend that I wholeheartedly disagreed with that view.
This is what I said:
1. This season has been a big improvement on last season.
2. The Premier League is a killer, in many ways much harder to win than European cups, and we won the league by 12 points.
3. The Champions League is a knockout tournament in which anything can happen.
4. Pep loves Manchester and loves the club.
5. Pep is a genius. That's not to say he doesn't make mistakes and god he got it wrong tonight. He's human. But he is indisputably a football genius.
6. When we eventually look back on season 2020/21 we'll have some golden memories, in spite of the pandemic. The team surpassed expectations when many including me thought this was going to be a transitional season.
7. Pep's 5 years into his City career, with two left on his current deal. With a bit of fine-tuning, this team is only going to get better.
8. The Champions League is fine and I was obviously desperate for us to win tonight, but I don't buy all that 'holy grail' bollocks.
9. Pep conducts himself incredibly well. There's no one else I'd rather have in charge of our club.
10. Now leave me alone.
[. This is a slightly embellished version for a social media post on the topic — I never actually told my friend to leave me alone (point 10). However, it was still just one hour after the final whistle and in the circumstances I think it's quite measured and coherent.]