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Pep Guardiola was already in unchartered territory. This season is his fifth as Manchester City manager, meaning he has now been in charge at the Etihad Stadium longer than he was at the Camp Nou. Despite – or perhaps because of – his lifelong association with Barcelona, Guardiola only managed the club for four campaigns. He was at the helm of Bayern Munich for just three. When he arrived at City in 2016, many would have anticipated that he would have moved on by now.
Instead, Guardiola has just signed a new deal to extend his stay in Manchester until 2023. If he remains until the end of that contract, he will have managed City for seven seasons. His decision to put pen to paper shows that Guardiola believes there is no better place for him to be right now.
We had long talks this week altogether. We put [forward] both sides – to continue or not – and in the end, we decided that the best for all of us is to continue because still we have the feeling that there is unfinished business and still there is something to do: continue what we have done in the last years … We won and we won a lot and we won again. When you become a big club, a big team, I have the feeling that you have to continue to be there for many years. That is the target. What happened this week, I understood what the club wanted and I said: ‘OK, we are going to do it together again.’ I want to win, and we will be judged for this.
It is not hard to see why Guardiola is so content at City. For starters, they are one of the most powerful clubs in world soccer. Other sides have richer histories when it comes to winning trophies, but Sheikh Mansour is the richest owner of a soccer team on the planet. Since 2016, Guardiola has spent almost $600 million on defenders and goalkeepers alone. There are fewer financial restrictions at City than at any other club in Europe.
Guardiola is also afforded a high degree of autonomy by his current employers. The city has only become a major player on the continent since its takeover by Mansour in 2008. There is not the same level of pressure at the Etihad as there is at Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, or Bayern Munich, where league titles have been seen as par for the course for decades. Guardiola was ultimately worn down by the intense nature of life as Barcelona’s boss; he is unlikely to ever feel the same at City.
Furthermore, the club has been set up for him to thrive. City has wanted Guardiola since 2012, and they had no qualms about moving on Manuel Pellegrini when the Catalan became available four years later. By that time City had reassembled the team, Guardiola was part of at Barcelona, with Txiki Begiristain installed as director of soccer and Ferran Soriano appointed as chief executive officer. Both men remain at City today, and their continued presence is a big factor in Guardiola’s decision to stay put.
Guardiola’s first season in the Premier League was a little underwhelming, as City finished third – 15 points behind champions Chelsea and just three ahead of Arsenal in fifth. Yet the next two campaigns were sensational. City became the first team in English soccer history to amass 100 points in 2017/18, and they retained the title by collecting 98 in 2018/19. Their style of play was unlike anything ever seen before in the Premier League.
The last term was a disappointment, though. City finished second but never really got close to Liverpool. They have made an underwhelming start to the current campaign too, collecting just 12 points from their opening eight games, and scoring only 10 goals. DraftKings Sportsbook has cut their odds on winning the Premier League title to +225, with Liverpool now favorites at +200 and Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur each listed at +500.
The challenge facing Guardiola is to build another title-winning side. David Silva and Vincent Kompany, key figures at the club for much of the last decade, have already departed. Sergio Aguero could follow his former team-mates through the exit door when his contract expires next summer, as could Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan. Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne are all still around from the start of 2017/18, but there has been substantial turnover since then.
In the Premier League era, only Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have built more than one title-winning team at the same club in the same spell. Ferguson did it several times at Manchester United, while Wenger evolved his squad between 1998 and 2002. Guardiola must now do the same.
Then there is the Champions League. Guardiola won the tournament twice with Barcelona but failed to add a third winner’s medal to his collection at Bayern. He has hitherto come up short at City too, with last season’s quarter-final loss to Lyon a particular lowlight.
Guardiola’s place in managerial history books is already assured. His Barcelona side was arguably the greatest club team we have ever seen. He has influenced the modern game more than any of his peers and won league titles in three different countries.
Even so, Guardiola knows that an inability to win the Champions League in seven seasons at City would be a failure. His side is rated as second-favorites to lift the trophy by the bookmakers – DraftKings Sportsbook offer +500 – but City has come up short despite being heavily fancied in the past. Only time will tell whether this season is different.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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