Fear of failure fuels Pep's push for perfection
The question of who motivates the motivator is often posed. In Pep Guardiola's case, it may be the wrong one. It is not who, but what. The Manchester City manager is his own psychologist. His record of retaining titles shows he is sufficiently driven to avoid complacency.
"The players don't have to be worried," he said as he contemplated the defence of City's Premier League crown. "I am ready to fight again."
The reason felt counter-intuitive. While the orchestrator of England's only 100-point top-flight campaign can be a stranger to setbacks, he is galvanised by a fear of them.
He is not sated by success. Instead, Guardiola is haunted by the prospect of defeat's damaging properties. They stretch far beyond the pitch, exerting a destructive impact on both his family and professional lives, and on a man who is so consumed by nerves that he cannot eat on match days. "The fear of losing games makes me starving and hungry again. I don't like the feeling of losing games. All managers try to avoid that feeling: you feel guilty, you feel bad, your private life is not good, your relationship with the players is not good. Just that simple fear to lose a game makes you hungry."
Fear may have spurred City on last season. They suffered five meaningful defeats: to Wigan in the FA Cup, Liverpool and Manchester United in the Premier League and two more to Liverpool in the Champions League. Opponents had more reasons to be afraid in a campaign that produced far more records than losses.
Glory may have been underpinned by fear and loathing in Manchester. The trailer for the Amazon documentary of City's season includes Guardiola telling his team: "Some of you play better when you are angry with me, so if you hate me, hate me, guys." An eloquent enthusiast can be charming, but it was a glimpse into Guardiola's toughness. His players produce public paeans of praise to their manager. He suggested another picture could emerge when they are no longer beholden to him.
"When they are together [they say] he is an exceptional manager," he said. "But after that they read books, they write books and make statements. They don't have the courage to tell [me] face to face. It is normally the ones who don't play. Normally, they are so sweet. When they are here, they say how good the manager is and how much he is a genius."
Such superlatives have tended to come from Guardiola's tactical and coaching prowess. He offered an insight into his man-management. "Sometimes you say some things in the heat of the dressing room," he said. "Sometimes when you are sat here cold, you can analyse it in a different way. Some players need to be hugged for their best performance. Sometimes when you don't speak to them is when they play better."
City's results last season were so impressive as to indicate Guardiola took a vow of silence. But now a purist sounded very pragmatic as he spoke of his priorities.
"The Premier League is the main target," he said. It felt the sort of logic Alex Ferguson would long deploy, demoralising rivals with relentless consistency. "Every day, being there," he said. "The Premier League shows you how you are as a team, if you are a stable system. In the Champions League, it is more unpredictable, so one bad moment, bad decisions, a bad half-time can break all the work of the whole season."
The Community Shield will not, though it is notable that the past four champions have lost at Wembley. With City set to field a weakened and semi-fit side, that could become five. If Chelsea have an advantage, it is because City's exploits came at a cost. They had 16 players at the World Cup, seven involved in the final week. Two, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, are yet to return to training. The England winger has been elusive in another respect, yet to commit to a new contract as he enters the final two years of his deal.
While Gabriel Jesus signed up until 2023 on Friday, Sterling's future is shrouded in more mystery. "I don't know what is going to happen but I assure you 100 per cent that the manager, the sporting director and all the players want him at the club," Guardiola said.
Sterling delivered a career-best 23 goals last season but his situation is complicated by the arrival of a rival. Riyad Mahrez's exploits on Leicester's right flank secured him the PFA Player of the Year award in 2015-16's title-winning campaign. Guardiola cited the versatility of both attackers to argue they can coexist and vowed that Sterling's contractual impasse will not be a factor in selection, but the £60m addition will be granted the first chance to stake a claim for a place when he makes his debut today.
Another winger represents the anomaly in an overworked group. Leroy Sané was the lone man to make 10 league starts for City last season who did not go to Russia. The PFA Young Player of the Year was a surprise omission from Germany's World Cup squad. Guardiola challenged the 22-year old to force Joachim Löw to select him.
"Life is not easy," he said. "Sometimes there are ups and downs and sometimes bad moments. It is how you react in those moments that will make you stronger. If he is able to overcome that, he will be a better player. Leroy made an amazing season but it is just one. You have to do another one and another one because the top, top players, every season they are there. His target is to be consistent. If that happens, he will be back in the national team and sooner or later he is going to play a European Championship and a World Cup."
If Sané is like his manager, the fear of another summer on the sidelines will serve as motivation enough to excel.
Sunday Indo Sport