Revealed: How Manchester City courted Guardiola’s brother to get Pep
The pursuit of Pep Guardiola by Manchester City, we can all agree, has been the kind of courtship that has endured through more than one setback by virtue of the sheer cussedness of a suitor who simply would not be discouraged.
There was no half-hearted proverbial garage forecourt bouquet from the executive team at City, in fact you might say that they built the club's famous new Academy as part of the love-letter to their manager in waiting.
Txiki Begiristain, the club’s sporting director, and the chief executive Ferran Soriano appointed Guardiola at Barcelona in 2008 and from the moment they arrived at City in 2012 they sought to appoint him again.
Substantial acquisitions in the transfer window, and the development of the club’s state-of-the-art training facilities have made City a force to be taken seriously by the most celebrated coach on the planet, but the connections with Guardiola run even deeper.
Begiristain and Soriano gave Guardiola his chance at Barcelona in 2008 when the safer choice would have been to give the job to Jose Mourinho. Yet in the years since then they have sought to bind themselves even closer to Guardiola and his brother, the football agent Pere, to ensure that when Pep’s Bayern Munich contract expired, it was City who were in prime position. When it comes to signing players there are, after all, half a dozen whom City might choose from for any one position – but when it comes to the manager, there is only one Pep.
The lengths City have gone to in the past 12 months demonstrate just how determined they were that no competitor, especially not Manchester United, would develop a closer relationship with their putative new coach than City, before he made a final decision on his next club.
Last summer, Pere and his business partner in the Media Base Sports agency, the agent Jaume Roures, bought 80 per cent of the Spanish club Girona FC, who are in Catalonia and have competed for most of their history in the country’s second division, the Segunda.
Media Base Sports is 55 per cent owned by Pere and 45 per cent by Roures, the latter through his company Mediaset. Coincidentally, Mediaset is the agent for the selling of La Liga’s international television rights and also controls the broadcast production contract for those games.
Between them, Pere and Roures represent some of the biggest names in Spanish football – most notably Pep, Luis Suárez, Andrés Iniesta and Thiago Alcantara as well as a lot of promising academy players across the leading Spanish clubs, with some prodigies listed on their website as young as 11-years old.
By last summer, Girona were in debt to the tune of £3 million and within a few weeks of the takeover by Media Base Sports an informal partnership with City began that, as the Sunday Mirror revealed last month, saw them take three of the English club’s players on loan. First, City bought Girona’s former France Under-20s central defender Florian Lejeune, 24, once of Villarreal, for around £225,000 and loaned him back to the Spanish club.
City also signed the striker Ruben Sobrino, 23, from Segunda club Ponferradina for £375,000 and loaned him to Girona. From City’s own development squads came the Nigeria junior international Chidiebere Nwakali, 19, who had formerly been on loan at Malaga’s B team, Atlético Malagueño, and is now on loan at Girona. Since then another City junior player, Pablo Maffeo, 18, a Spanish right-back whom Pere represents, and acquired by City from Espanyol in 2013, has joined Girona on loan having signed a new deal at his parent club last month.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on City’s part. There is not understood to be any official agreement in place with Girona. The club is not part of the City Football Group which comprises City as well as the Major League Soccer franchise New York City FC, Melbourne City in Australia’s A-League and the Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan’s J‑League. Yet there is no question that the close working relationship with Pere has been in place a long time before his brother’s arrival.
The focus on Manchester has clearly been a long-term project for Pere and MBS who already have a UK office registered in Manchester at the city centre premises of their accountants Saffery Champness. There was no one available to speak on the company’s behalf on Wednesday.
Pere is becoming a major player in European football, and not simply for the coaches and players whom he and Roures represent, or his involvement in Girona. He is brokering a deal for the Pozzo family, who own Watford and Udinese to sell their third club, the Spanish top-flight side Granada, to a consortium from Asia. As for Girona, their league season has been less successful and they are 13th in the 22-team Segunda after 23 games.
The pursuit of Guardiola has shaped what City have become in the modern era. The club has a long-term plan for life beyond him, and the City Football Academy, they hope, will put them a generation ahead of rivals like Manchester United and Arsenal who were the innovators at the turn of the millennium.
But even so Guardiola’s arrival is anticipated as the major epoch in City’s history and one upon which so many resources have been focused.
In the modern era it is no simple task to land the top managers of the day and a bad appointment can affect a club for years. There are only a few who can achieve what City aspire to and really only one who they believe in as much as they believe in Guardiola. It is why they went all out to get him, and even in the case of Girona and his brother Pere, deployed every resource they could.