Tuesday 20 March 2018

Guardiola lets rip over pitch farce

Pep Guardiola in thoughtful mood during a press conference in Shenzhen yesterday ahead of today’s match against Borussia Dortmund. Photo: Getty
Pep Guardiola in thoughtful mood during a press conference in Shenzhen yesterday ahead of today’s match against Borussia Dortmund. Photo: Getty

James Ducker

Pep Guardiola launched a scathing attack on the organisers of the International Champions Cup yesterday, accusing them of hiding behind the weather as an excuse for the "unacceptable" pitch that led to the cancellation of Monday's Manchester derby in Beijing.

The Manchester City manager warned ICC officials that they needed to learn important lessons from the debacle after claiming they had been more bothered about hotel arrangements than the quality of the playing surface.

City's eagerly-awaited clash with Manchester United was abandoned less than six hours before kick-off, angering the 50,000 fans who had paid up to £300 for tickets, after the pitch at the Bird's Nest stadium was ruled unplayable and a safety hazard.

Read more: United and City will tour China again despite Beijing pitch farce

Heavy downpours had exacerbated an underlying fungus problem which resulted in large sections of the turf having to be relaid and turned the surface into a giant patchwork quilt.

Questions will be raised about why City and United did not do more in advance to ensure the game would be played on an acceptable pitch, with the impression given that the clubs were opting for diplomacy by blaming the weather in the statements that followed the cancellation.

But Guardiola broke ranks yesterday by focusing his ire on the ICC in an attempt to force the tournament's organisers, Relevent Sports, to raise standards in the future.

Speaking ahead of City's ICC game against Borussia Dortmund in Shenzhen this lunchtime, which is expected to go ahead as planned, Guardiola said: "The pitch [in Beijing] was unacceptable. We don't travel all the way to China just for holidays or a training session.

"We came to play two friendly games so I think it was the first time a game has been cancelled here. They are looking for hotels, inviting players, but at the end, if the pitch is not good enough, all that doesn't matter.

"Maybe there was a concert on the pitch 10 or 15 days before. Our groundsman was there for 10 days to try to take care of the pitch. For them, the pitch doesn't matter, but for us it's the most important thing. Maybe it was a lesson for the people who organise it.

"It wasn't the water, it wasn't the rain. It was just the state of the pitch. We have played in really bad conditions in our careers, but that pitch two days ago was impossible to play on."

Guardiola claimed that, aside from the risk of injury to players which had also concerned United manager, Jose Mourinho, playing on the shambolic surface would have left supporters short-changed.


"It wasn't just about avoiding injury for the players, it was about the fans," he said. "They buy tickets to watch players of quality from City and United. But if we had played on that pitch, the fans would have said, 'What is that game?' because it was unacceptable. The pitch [turf] would have moved two metres. Believe me, it was the right decision not to play on it."

Despite the farcical turn of events, senior City and United officials were quick to signal their commitment to touring China again in the future, which was unsurprising given the commercial importance of the country to both clubs.

United purport to have 108 million followers in China and launched a series of major commercial deals while in Shanghai on the first leg of their pre-season tour.

The City Football Group, which owns City as well as New York City FC and Melbourne City, sold a 13 per cent stake in the business last year to China Media Capital for £265m and has not ruled out the prospect of running a Chinese Super League side in the future.

But the latest developments have dealt a blow to the credibility of the ICC.

The global tournament, played across Asia, Australia, the United States and Europe, is now in its fourth summer and has become the showpiece attraction for the majority of Europe's leading clubs.

Meanwhile, Guardiola has revealed he will let his players decide who should be captain in the absence of Vincent Kompany as the City manager warned supporters his team could struggle at the start of the new season.

Club captain Kompany is not certain to start the new Premier League campaign as he works his way back to fitness after an injury-ravaged past 12 months.

And in the likely event of the Belgium defender missing games, Guardiola has insisted it will be down to the dressing room to nominate a vice-captain.

"The players have to decide who is the real captain for them," he said.

"I am not in the locker-room or their own meetings when they have to change something. They have to choose for themselves."

City begin the Premier League season at home to Sunderland on August 13 before facing games against Stoke City, West Ham United and Manchester United in a tricky looking start for Guardiola, who is forecasting some teething troubles. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Bor. Dortmund v Manchester City, Live, Sky Sports 1, 12.30pm

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