Pep Guardiola believes he has underestimated his Manchester City players at times this season and should have shouldered more blame for his team's recent shortcomings.
In a candid, revealing press conference yesterday that contrasted starkly with his tetchy behaviour and monosyllabic answers in the wake of Monday's 2-1 win at home to Burnley, the City manager also admitted he was worried about the prospect of missing out on the top four and playing Europa League football next season.
Despite winning four of their past five games in the Premier League, City are fourth, trail leaders Chelsea by seven points and have looked largely indistinguishable from the side Manuel Pellegrini left behind in some recent matches, which culminated in a terse exchange with reporters after victory over Burnley.
But an open, conciliatory Guardiola adopted a very different tone ahead of his side's FA Cup third-round tie away to West Ham United this evening when he claimed:
π He harboured "regrets" over certain decisions and had been more at "fault" than the players.
π It had been "inappropriate" to suggest in an interview that he was already on the road to retirement and insisted he would not walk away from football for a long time yet.
π Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo fully understands the importance of adapting to the physicality and aerial threat in English football.
"I think all managers have to be so demanding," said Guardiola over an engaging half an hour totalling more than 3,000 words. "It's natural for players to be relaxed so you have to be there to say, 'You have to do it again and again and again'.
"But what I feel now - what I saw in the last few games - every time the situation is not going well, it's my fault, not the fault of the players. That is my feeling now.
"What I saw in the last game against Burnley and the behaviour, for example, [two days before that in the 1-0 defeat by] Liverpool and so on, when we need results it's maybe more [about] my regret than the regrets of the players.
"The players have been amazing. We have changed many things about the way we're going to play this season so it was a special moment against Burnley.
"To see how they fought in such difficult circumstances [with 10 men for almost an hour after Fernandinho's red card], it was so emotional for me as a coach. So when I say to them I love them, it's because really I love them.
"The players showed me many things. Sometimes I was wrong about my players. Sometimes I want more and more from them, sometimes I am so demanding but they showed me how good they are."
Guardiola had told NBC, the US broadcaster, that "the process of my goodbye has already started" and that he was "still approaching the end of my career as a manager". But he sought to clarify those comments yesterday. "I said in the interview I am not going to be training when I am 60 years old. But guys, I am 45," he said. "I am not going to retire in two or three years. I love my job and am in the perfect place to do my job, especially here in England.
"I won't be training at 60 years old because I want to do something else in my life. But not in the next three, four, five or seven years. Maybe it was inappropriate to say I am starting to say goodbye to my career, but I know what I am thinking about when I am going to retire."
Guardiola did defend his suggestion that City lacked the historical might of rivals such as Manchester United and Barcelona, but dismissed any notion that he meant the club could not compete with the elite now.
"When I said compare history and titles with United and Liverpool, Barcelona and Madrid, that kind of club, we are behind," he said. "If people don't understand that, I am sorry. But City being less than the other ones? I never said that. We are going to fight until the end of the season for all the titles."
Guardiola has complained about City not being strong enough at both ends of the pitch this term, as well as a lack of aggression at winning second balls, but his main wish going forward is that they spend less time playing with the ball in the air.
"What I would like to see from my team in the future - because still the ball is up and down, up and down - is to try to put it on the floor and play more," he said. "The only way you have success this year is to play more with the ball, knowing it's not easy here, but we have to insist that is the only way."
Bravo has been criticised for his form since replacing Joe Hart as City's first-choice goalkeeper and flapped at a high ball from which Burnley scored on Monday. Guardiola felt Bravo was fouled and should have been awarded a free-kick but the manager said the Chilean was acutely aware of the need to adapt.
"He has to adapt but all the goalkeepers do," Guardiola said. "I see many goalkeepers who had the same problems as Claudio with these balls and when they fight for them.
"It's not only Claudio Bravo in this way. He's intelligent enough, he has enough experience. He realised immediately with these sort of balls into the box he had to be careful.
"It's not necessary to read the newspapers or the comments of the coach saying, 'Be careful here, it's quite different'. He realised already."
Guardiola also admitted he fears missing out on Champions League qualification."I prefer to be worried about not making it [the top four] than to be calm and relaxed that we're going to do that, especially with these contenders," he said. "Two of them are not going to qualify for the Champions League next season." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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