Sunday 26 January 2020

Guardiola methods making everyone lift their game

Pep Guardiola has made an impressive start to his reign at Manchester City Picture: PA
Pep Guardiola has made an impressive start to his reign at Manchester City Picture: PA

Jason Burt

There were a few cynical asides when Pep Guardiola was appointed Manchester City manager. There were even those who hoped he would fall flat on his face.

Would a coach who has dominated in Spain and Germany, and with the two strongest clubs in those countries, cut it in the physically intense, competitive chaos of the Premier League?

It is early days but we already have our answer. City may not win the league this season; they may not emulate the Champions League semi-final of the last campaign. He may ultimately fail. But Guardiola has made his mark. He has made a difference.

There is no revolution, just a raising of standards. The Spaniard has already changed the Premier League for the better. He has made us - and his rivals - think and react. Everyone is on their toes and knows they have to lift their game. Be harder, faster, fitter - and smarter.

Twice in the last few days, for example, new England manager Sam Allardyce has remarked on Guardiola's tactics.

"If I can get the chance to go and see Pep, I'd like to listen to him," Allardyce said yesterday at a briefing at St George's Park which echoed comments he made privately last week.


"I like the two full-backs coming in, the next generation are going to copy that."

Guardiola has done something different - and made everyone at least think about it - and felt he needed to do so with a squad that had to change.

Not just in personnel - and only one of his expensive new signings, Nolito, has actually featured so far - but, more importantly, in approach. Changing tactics, even a tweak, has made his players think.

As has dropping Joe Hart. It has jolted the dressing-room. Here is a big player who is being pushed out the door, with Guardiola having a calm but unequivocal rationale behind it: the 29-year-old goalkeeper simply does not fit into the way he plays.

Hart may have won the league twice, he may have almost three years left on a bumper contract; the club may even want to keep him. But he is not for Guardiola. And that is the end of the matter.

So there are two examples of food for thought.

And here is the third and most important: the food itself. Guardiola is interested to the point of obsession in conditioning and, above all, the effects diet has - which provides a psychological as well as a physical result.

Immediately, players such as Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure are banished from training or the match-day squad because they are deemed overweight.

In fact City players are weighed almost daily, which has to keep them on their toes. If their weight is higher than it is deemed it should be then they do not train. Simple - and dispassionate - as that.

The players eat together - breakfast, lunch and, after matches, dinner. They have to sign in and out of the club's canteen for those meals to prove they have done so, with Guardiola regarding nutritionists as vital members of his staff.

Out have gone post-match pizzas and chicken goujons and in have come salmon and prawn salads and handfuls of mixed nuts, which are packed with protein.

Medical studies have shown that the speed of post-match recovery depends entirely on the players' diet. Guardiola is a disciple.

Eating together has also helped bonding, with the trade-off being that the players are not forced to stay overnight in club accommodation before home games, which they were under Guardiola's predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini. So they are less bored.

With the Olympics having overlapped with the start of the Premier League season, there has been a simple conclusion by City's staff: Guardiola wants his players to live their lives like Olympic athletes. They have one chance at this, he has told them.

So far, so good. Guardiola's mood is said to be exuberant.

He has won his first three games and has privately conceded that the team have done better than he expected. There is a lot of encouragement and backslapping. But everyone is on their toes. They have done their homework and know that Guardiola can turn.

A regime has been set. First with the tactics; then with the treatment of individual players; third, with the obsession over diet and conditioning.

All three, of course, overlap. Fail to be fit or fit in and you are out.

There is no mystery to this.

No revolution. Guardiola's teams tend to be the hardest working and fittest in the leagues they play in. That is the given that allows the talent to flourish.

Jose Mourinho - back at Manchester United, who he is transforming into robust title contenders - had a similar effect on the Premier League 12 years ago. He got people thinking, changed the outlook.

Guardiola is doing that now and the league will improve because of it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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