Monday 23 September 2019

City are 'still not ready' to match Barca mentality

Manchester City's Leroy Sane during their training session at the Metallist Stadium in Kharkiv ahead of tonight's game with Shakhtar Donetsk. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City's Leroy Sane during their training session at the Metallist Stadium in Kharkiv ahead of tonight's game with Shakhtar Donetsk. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Luke Edwards

Every time Manchester City play in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola knows the question is coming, yet he had still not found a convincing way to answer it last night as he once again claimed his team were not ready to win the competition.

City return to the scene of a rare defeat last year to face a Shakhtar Donetsk side who beat them in their final group game in December. But it is the competition, rather than the opposition, that troubles Guardiola.

His team are in ominous form in the Premier League, unbeaten, rarely stressed by domestic rivals as they retain the same hunger and determination that took them to the title by 19 points last term.

But the Champions League brings extra pressure for a manager who knows it is the trophy his employers are desperate to win, while he is being constantly reminded that it will be eight years since he last did so as a manager at Barcelona.

His response is always the same; to manage expectations by referring to City's lack of Champions League pedigree, the strength of the opposition, the luck needed, and all the other things that can go wrong, so that, if it does, he can always say he told you so.

That does not mean he is wrong but, eventually, when you are the highest-paid manager in Europe at the richest club in the world, people will stop listening to the excuses.

"I was born in Barcelona and grew up there," said Guardiola, who knows his team will be all but certain of qualifying from their group if they beat Shakhtar, home and away, in their next two European games.

"When you start to play, they inoculate it into your blood and body that the only way to survive is to win.

"But I also learnt that when you don't, life goes on and you have another chance the next season.

"We'll put more efforts into winning this competition. I saw last season and this, that in many circumstances, as a club, we are still not ready to win it. That's what I feel.

"That doesn't mean we are not going to try. To win this competition it's not enough just to have desire or wanting to win.


"You have to have many circumstances, have experience and still we don't have enough.

"You have to have the desire, the club, chairman, owner, the fans, everyone has to push to be closer, to achieve the next stages. When it happens, everyone will feel it."

Privately, Guardiola believes the task is much harder than he perhaps realised when he took over in 2016, not least because City supporters remain detached from the Champions League, with huge numbers of empty seats at the Etihad Stadium when they lost to Lyon last month.

"It's not enough that the manager wants to win it, it's not just the players," said Guardiola.

"You have to be pushed, not just by the manager, by everyone surrounding Manchester City, that we have to win it and still we don't have the feeling that the fans are pushing that we have to win the Champions League."

That will surely come if City reach the latter stages of the competition, but they have made the semi-finals only once and Guardiola admits he might not be able to do any better than his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini.

"In this competition, you need something special, and still I don't feel it," he added. "Maybe in the future, maybe with other players and other managers... I'm pretty sure we'll be closer with the way the club is working over five or 10 years.

"Every year we'll be closer and sooner or later it's going to happen. Hopefully as soon as possible."

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