Wednesday 7 December 2016

Pep keen to test his philosophy in December chill

New Manchester City manager prepares for his biggest challenge amid perils of ‘freezing and windy’ English winter.

Jim White

Published 09/07/2016 | 02:30

Pep Guardiola cuts a dapper figure in Manchester yesterday. Photo: Phil Noble
Pep Guardiola cuts a dapper figure in Manchester yesterday. Photo: Phil Noble

It's St Stephen's Day that excites Pep Guardiola. Not for him a day of bitter familial squabbling over the remote control, not for him overdosing on indigestion tablets or failing to corral his offspring on to an invigorating walk.

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Twice at his first press conference as Manchester City manager he mentioned the day after Christmas in a tone of reverence.

Playing matches when the rest of European football is enjoying its winter break, going out with the wind howling and the sleet horizontal, with the pitch rutted and bumpy: this is the challenge he cannot wait to tackle.

Then he will properly know he can flourish outside his comfort zone.

This coming season, we can now be in no doubt, is to be the season of the manager, the year when the cult of the coach reaches its apex.

Read More: Guardiola: I will convince City to play the Barca way

The Premier League may not be able to boast the best players, or the most successful teams, or even in these days of choreographed Icelandic clapping, the most innovative fan culture. But it can now pride itself on the biggest concentration of managerial talent.

Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp: wherever you look the top men are congregating in England. And, as he introduced himself to his new cohort of potential critics, the finest of the lot gave indication as to why he had headed north.

"I don't know the reasons the other coaches came here," he said. "I can only speak about me.

"I came as a player two or three times to see this atmosphere and as a coach I came many times and said, 'Wow that is really good'. "

Difference

England, he pointed out, was different. Now he wants to embrace that difference.

He wants to learn from Brian Kidd and Mikel Arteta, his new assistants, what it was like to play on St Stephen's Day.

He had clearly heard many times the sniped insistence that he had had things easy, that an automaton could manage Barcelona or Bayern Munich, where the resources are on another plane entirely to their rivals.

He is well versed in the central critique of the Guardiola way, that his system of intelligent, vibrant football would crumble under the unforgiving scrutiny of a wet Wednesday in Stoke.

That was why he had come to England, he said: to prove to everyone that it could, that he had the coaching wherewithal to adapt to any circumstance.

Read More: Sterling gets vote of confidence

"I never before go to the stadiums where it is freezing and windy," he said. "And I say, why not play good [football] when it is freezing and windy? That is a target for me, a personal ambition."

The Premier League, he suggested, is now the testing ground for any manager, the place where the competition is so ruthless and unyielding, where there is no room to hide, the place properly to prove yourself.

So it is that he cannot wait to pitch himself against Sunderland and Sam Allardyce in City's opening fixture of the season. Or, as he referred to his first opponent in a tone that strayed mighty close to the deferential: "The Big Sam".

Despite the razzmatazz of his official welcome to City earlier in the week, Guardiola is a technocrat, not a showman. He may sport the priciest of tailoring but there is nothing remotely flash about his approach to his job.

Read More: Pep Guardiola press conference - what he said

Quietly spoken, admitting to a touch of nerves, resolutely diplomatic, in his opening address he set himself no targets, fuelled no verbal feuds, suggested what he had to offer was simply a determination to do his best.

If it is sound bites they are after, then, the Manchester press corps will be far better served this season down the road at Old Trafford.

But for the City fans, Guardiola's message was one to relish. The players will quickly understand what is required of them.

"What we want is so simple," he said. "When the opponent has the ball, take it back as soon as possible. When you have it, move it as much as possible, create as many chances as possible."

He made it sound beautifully straightforward. We wait to discover how it will work away at Hull on St Stephen's Day. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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