Tuesday 18 June 2019

Guardiola knows his City tenure will be measured against success in Europe

Manchester City 6 Watford 0

Pep Guardiola still finds time for coaching notes after the final Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Pep Guardiola still finds time for coaching notes after the final Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Jason Burt

It is a mark of the success of Manchester City under Pep Guardiola that the persistent question at the completion of an unprecedented domestic treble - adding the FA Cup to the Premier League and League Cup - was simple: what next?

Even as he savoured victory over Watford by the biggest FA Cup final margin since 1903, Guardiola knew the question, in various forms but with that same thrust, was coming.

Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling (L) scores the sixth goal past Watford’s Heurelho Gomes. Photo: Glyn KIRK / AFP / Getty
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling (L) scores the sixth goal past Watford’s Heurelho Gomes. Photo: Glyn KIRK / AFP / Getty

"I know we will be judged at the end on whether we win the Champions League," the City manager eventually said. "I know unless we do that it will not be enough. This comes with me. I know that. I arrive in Barcelona, we were lucky we won it two times in four years [2009 and 2011] and the people expect I am something special that we have to win the Champions League and it's still true.

"In this club, the points record and the domestic competitions are incredible, but the Champions League we don't win quite often compared to the other ones because the teams are so good, the competition is so demanding but we want to win it."


That City were a VAR decision away from reaching the Champions League semi-final shows just how close they are already. It was Raheem Sterling who was denied that injury-time goal against Tottenham Hotspur and it was Guardiola's interaction with the winger after the final whistle on the pitch at Wembley that is so instructive to the relentless mentality that makes him and City so formidable and frightening.

Guardiola stood lecturing Sterling about something he had seen the player do during the final which was not to his liking. Sterling scored twice, many thought he had completed a hat-trick, and here he was being micro-coached before a smile and a hug.

Vincent Kompany will move to Belgian club Anderlecht as player-manager
Vincent Kompany will move to Belgian club Anderlecht as player-manager

It was reminiscent of Guardiola doing something similar to the young Bayern Munich defender Joshua Kimmich in the centre-circle after a game against Borussia Dortmund. Cynics argued that it was the manager playing up to the cameras.

It could not be further from the truth. Guardiola is simply caught in the moment. "It was something in the second half, one action and I said that I didn't understand him [Sterling]. He didn't understand me, that's all, nothing special," he explained. "It happens quite often in the training ground."

But, still, not usually on the pitch, not usually after a final and not usually at the end of such an amazing campaign. But as ever for such an intense coach, it felt like there was no time to waste.

"I wouldn't be here next season unless I believed we could improve as a group. I know it will be difficult because people will compare and people cannot expect us to repeat the treble or four titles in one season, that is something one team does once in their lifetime," Guardiola said. "I'm not focused, believe me, at the start of the season thinking: 'I have to win one title, two, three or four'. Never."

Even so, the Champions League, which Guardiola has not won since 2011, and City have never won, will loom larger and larger for a club and a manager looking at ways of breaking records and making history. Despite the denials.

That is if they are allowed to compete in it, of course. If a ban is confirmed for Uefa financial fair play breaches (expected to come into force the season after next) it will concentrate City minds even more on needing to win it while Guardiola remains.

Interestingly, his contract runs until the summer of 2021 which - if there is a ban - means he will have one more tilt unless he signs another extension.

Such talk exposes the gulf that exists between City and a club such as Watford. They have had an excellent season, with a very good team and led by a smart coach in Javi Gracia.

Maybe it would have been different if Roberto Pereyra had taken an early chance, only to be denied by the alertness of Ederson. Yet that was a big maybe as City overwhelmed them with Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Sterling impressive.

If the first two goals killed it, the next four were delivered with an assassin's ruthlessness.

David Silva claimed the opener. It summed up what makes City so good as Bernardo Silva stole possession away from Abdoulaye Doucoure, Sterling had a shot blocked, David Silva won a header against Kiko Femenia, Sterling won another, David Silva latched onto the ball and finished with a half-volley. It was tenacity, work-rate, determination, skill.

Jesus claimed the second, after a poor decision by goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, in his last game before retiring at the age of 38, and it felt like all the air had gone from Watford. They did not give up, they kept trying to go forward and that made it even harsher as they were picked off time and again.

Kevin De Bruyne was next to score, again after possession was tenaciously won back, this time by Jesus who did it again before claiming his second. Sterling added two more - from Bernardo Silva's square pass and in collecting the rebound after Gomes had turned his shot on to a post - and only a fine save by the goalkeeper from John Stones prevented it being a record score, rather than merely a record-equalling one, in a record season. (©The Daily Telegraph)


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