Sunday 20 October 2019

Luke Edwards: 'Pep Guardiola yet again haunted by failures on biggest stage as City crash out'


Manchester City's Pep Guardiola. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City's Pep Guardiola. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Luke Edwards

Pep Guardiola is the greatest manager of his generation, a serial trophy winner who has revolutionised the way football is played, yet he is one who must tolerate being called a failure again because the video assistant referee ruled out an injury-time goal that would have sent Manchester City through.

Most managers never win European football's ultimate prize, even those who do rarely manage it more than once. Guardiola, at the age of 48, has already won it twice with Barcelona, yet still he will be forced to endure accusations that he has fallen short, that he has, with all the resources at his disposal, underwhelmed.

This is the tightrope he walks. Even while redefining what success looks like, he can be hounded like everyone else in his profession by criticism.

And just like Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini before him, Guardiola has not been able to translate City's domestic success into a European triumph. The brutal nature of the business he is in and the standards by which is judged, this result was a disaster for City and another ugly cross against Guardiola's name.

It will haunt and torment him. He has had three opportunities and has never taken City beyond the quarter-finals. Guardiola is to football management what Mark Zuckerburg is to social media; a trailblazer, a legend, a walking, living breathing success story, but not one without flaws and certainly not without failings.

Guardiola has shattered records like a man throwing hammers in a house of mirrors, distorting the landscape before breaking the competition into tiny pieces.

No manager has come close to winning more in the 11 years since he took charge of Barcelona and, perhaps, nobody has ever done it with the same style. This a master at work, a mortal man who has carried out immortal deeds.

Guardiola won 14 pieces of silverware in four seasons as Barcelona. Seven more followed during his three years at Bayern Munich, the sort of unprecedented success that ensured he became the highest-paid manager in the world when arrived in Manchester.

A barren first year had English cynics lining up to question his reputation, but in his second, Guardiola stroked his stubble and smiled as he ripped up the record books, City becoming the first Premier League club to score more than 100 goals and 100 points.

Yet, through it all, Guardiola has never quite been invincible. He has always had a weak spot, a tender piece of exposed flesh and it was his Champions League record.

For all of his domestic success with Bayern, three semi-finals were not deemed good enough. Domestically, he could not have done more, but in Europe, Bayern craved more continental glory and he could not give it to them. He left Bavaria with pats on the backs and warm goodbyes, but he was not quite lauded in the same way he had been at Barcelona.

It left a scar that has been prised open in each of his three seasons at City. Every time City have exited the Champions League, a manager who has specialised in success has felt like a failure. It irritates, but most of all it hurts because he knows the truth. Guardiola is the manager of a club that for all of the denials, is desperate to win the Champions League.

City's success on the continent is the final step in their quest. It creates expectancy and it has made Guardiola look and sound vulnerable.

It exposes a fragility and a nervousness that is not there when he talks about the Premier League. Fear of failure changes a man and it brings out the worst in City's manager. Before this game he was tetchy and tense, he looked like he could jump out of an open window.

Guardiola did not sound or act like a man who believed his side would win and that will have transmitted to his players. After 10 minutes, having conceded two goals, they were on the brink of elimination from the competition at the quarter-final stage for the second successive year against domestic rivals they had seen off comfortably in the Premier League title race.

They came back, but the damage was done. A defeat on away goals is the cruellest way to go out, the VAR goal ruled out for offside salt in the wounds. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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