Pep Guardiola addresses the choice to let Joao Cancelo depart and lessons from Johan Cruyff in an exclusive conversation with Sky Sports. Watch Tottenham vs. Manchester City live on Sky Sports Premier League beginning at 4 p.m. on Sunday; kickoff is at 4.30 p.m.
Following Manchester City’s triumph over Tottenham last month, Pep Guardiola’s inflammatory words dominated the conversation. His critical appraisal of his teammates’ appetite was intended to elevate standards, to prevent things from going wrong before they happened.
Guardiola confessed that he had been there personally, buried amid the 16-minute stream of consciousness that was his post-match press conference, in the embargoed piece that did not surface until later that week. As a 23-year-old midfielder for Barcelona.
“When I was a football player in Spain, I won four Ligas in a row. I was not the same in the fifth. I wasn’t the same in sixth grade. I wasn’t hungry enough. Caviar. Madrid defeated me. The fifth and sixth positions. I’m familiar with the players. But I’m here to help.”
Speaking to Guardiola in a side room at the club’s training complex before the rematch with Tottenham, the air is heavy with speculation about Joao Cancelo’s sudden departure. But City’s head coach is in a better mood. It’s an opportunity to ponder such comparisons.
Did he realize at the time that the haul of silverware under Johan Cruyff had satisfied his desire, that the hunger did not burn as hotly as it had before? “I realized it a little later. It is impossible for a player to understand what is going on in real time “Sky Sports quotes Guardiola.
“The difference between winning and losing is very little. You must pay close attention. I tried my hardest. I never doubt that players give it their all. At the same moment, you say to yourself, ‘OK, I did it, I won.’ It takes time to return to the top.”
Guardiola did not notice it at the time. Cruyff, on the other hand, did. “Johan had many wonderful qualities, one of which was that he could predict how you would feel before you felt it, before it happened. That’s why he was such a genius. ‘Now this will happen,’ he’d say. Fortunately or unfortunately, it did most of the time.”
Barcelona, like this city, had every reason to feel they were the finest. Romario had won the World Cup with Brazil that summer, earning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. Hristo Stoichkov, a Bulgarian striker, earned the Golden Boot.
They both returned to Barcelona in body, but Romario’s soul remained on Copacabana Beach, and the “Dream Team” was never the same again. “He is now a politician and a prominent figure in Brazil. That was not anything I expected “Guardiola says.
“I have strong memories of him as a player, but also as a person. Easy-going. A nice individual. I’d want to see him again.”
All of this is a wonderful detour from the topic that is now occupying the thoughts of Manchester City supporters. They don’t have to worry about Ederson going to the Rio Carnival in the middle of the season as Romario did, but there are other issues.
There’s also the reality that they’re five points behind Arsenal, who have one game in hand at the top of the Premier League standings heading into the weekend. There’s also the reality that, when other clubs spent money in January, City let Cancelo depart for Bayern Munich.
Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Oleksandr Zinchenko all left in the summer, but this was the most shocking, coming late in the transfer window with little time to replace him. Guardiola is rebuilding, looking for new energy, but everything still jars.
If he is using an example from his playing career, it is because he is venturing into uncharted ground as a coach. He has a lot of expertise and, of course, a lot of success. However, the stars of his first season remained at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the end of the season.
Guardiola brought Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets to Barcelona. These players, together with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi, would go on to win another Champions League together long after the coach had left.
Philipp Lahm was captain at Bayern both before and after Guardiola came. Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller remain on the team. It is a distinct task to develop a fantastic team, then break it up and rebuild it. Guardiola is in his eighth season as City manager.
Five of the top six scorers from that inaugural championship squad are no longer with the team. If his anger after defeating Tottenham in January was intended to jolt his team into action, his demeanor ahead of this upcoming match is intended to soothe everyone else.
“It has occurred. Everyone and everything changes. It’s perfectly natural. The majority of the time, it is the players who opt to depart. The club is always willing to help. There are other teams where the release clause is crucial. Someone has to pay or you have to remain.
“I totally disagree with you.
“They must always strive to move on when they are not comfortable working with the manager, the staff, the club, the city, or anything. Of course, there must be a proposal. But if you make an offer, I am confident we will reach an agreement.
But does that make things any easier?
“Absolutely, because feelings exist,” he says. “We experience many things together, both good and unpleasant. Those attachments, of course, are unique. But, in the end, it’s all a part of it. There is an organic method.
“My birthplace is Barcelona. Barcelona is everything to me. Nonetheless, I left. And Barcelona was successful after I departed, as was Bayern Munich. City will be successful when I depart. It’s a fact of life. I don’t believe it needs to be a huge deal.”
Nonetheless, this is Cancelo. His form has decreased, and his influence isn’t as clear as it once was, but he was crucial to the past two title triumphs. That ability to make a play from midfield, those outside-of-the-boot passes. When City falls behind Arsenal, it is a significant setback.
What does he say to people who claim his team is weaker now than it was a week ago? “For many years, many have said that we are weaker. I’m familiar with the expression. People felt we were weaker after we won the league with 100 points.”
At least publicly, he has no intention of adopting what many would consider an obvious assertion. He is more than willing to explain why.
“First and foremost, I refuse to accept it. Second, if I did accept it, it would imply that my players are inadequate. I never understand a manager who claims his squad is bad and needs seven more players. I need to speak with them. I must train them.
“Can you tell me which one is bad? They are all excellent. Individuals will rise if we are able to play in our system that we believe in. As a result, I refuse to acknowledge that the players are bad. They are, without a doubt, excellent. It is my responsibility to help kids feel good, play well, and grow.
Cancelo was not the only full-back with the capacity to go into midfield. Rico Lewis will follow in the footsteps of Kyle Walker. “We have players that can play on the inside. “Outside, Sergio [Gomez] may be the only one,” Guardiola says.
“But we played a holding midfielder, Fabian Delph, there and won 100 points. We played with Alex Zinchenko for many years in that position when he was a No 10. If everyone is open and everyone says they can do it then it is not a problem.”
Is there a midfielder in the squad who can do it now?
“Yeah, of course.”
Who? “You will see.”
He smiles. The message is clear. The show will go on.
City will find a way. He will find a way.
“It is not a drama,” he stresses once more.
“This season, for example, Gabriel, Alex, and Raheem have all left. I am eternally thankful for everything they have done for me and this institution, including winning 11 awards in five years. It’s incredible. Believe me, I wish them all the best, both personally and professionally.
“When I leave, I feel the same way. One day, they will bring in a new management with his own enthusiasm and ideas.
“Everything will progress.”
And with that, he returns to an earlier concept. A reminder that the art of management is to be ahead of the curve, to recognize when it is appropriate to let a player leave, when a team need stability, and when it requires refreshing.
“With the decisions, you must follow Cruyff’s advice. You must always do it one month in advance of the event. You must prepare for it. This is my responsibility.
“It’s doomed to fail. I’ve failed. And it will be successful.”