Wednesday 17 January 2018

'I've won 21 titles in seven years' - Guardiola insists he won't change his ways

Guardiola: Defiant about system. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
Guardiola: Defiant about system. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Mark Ogden

Thirty-two minutes it lasted. Thirty-two minutes of Pep Guardiola defending his philosophy, his tactics and his team selection, with more than one acceptance of his responsibility, while the Manchester City manager barely paused for breath.

He swivelled on his chair, repeatedly scratched his head, smiled, shrugged, waved his hands and threw in the odd touch of sarcasm, but throughout what seemed like a public therapy session, Guardiola remained determined to emphasise that, regardless of how often his approach is questioned, it is the one thing that will never changed.

"Ah, you would like that, huh?" Guardiola said, when asked whether he would ever consider altering his outlook on the game. "You know what happens? I think about that, yeah, but after that the solution is not better than what I believe. So I cannot (change).

"Do you know why as well? Because in seven years, I won 21 titles.

"I'm sorry guys. I won 21 titles in seven years. So it's three titles per year playing in that way.

"But if you believe I arrive here and in three months everything is going well and I'm going to win in the Camp Nou 0-4, I'm going to dominate against Messi and Luis Suarez and Neymar is going to create nothing, and Iniesta isn't going to play good - no. I'm good, but it's not enough!

"So no, no, I'm not going to change. First, it's going to happen that if it's not going well in the future, next season isn't going well in that way, I will go home."

Read more: Birthday boy Wenger refuses to contemplate retirement

Home to Barcelona, the place where it all began and perhaps the reason why Guardiola proved to be so stung by criticism of his selection and tactics in the wake of City's 4-0 Champions League defeat on Wednesday.

The defeat in Catalonia extended City's winless run to four games, ahead of Sunday's clash with Southampton at the Etihad Stadium, following a ten-game winning streak that had threatened to become a procession.

With Guardiola, there is always the accusation that 21 trophies in seven years with the only horse in the race in the Germany and a Barcelona team possessing arguably the world's greatest-ever player skews the picture of his true capabilities.

Is he the genius or did he benefit from coaching one in Lionel Messi?

Whatever the answer, and it is probably somewhere in between, Guardiola can banish all of the doubts with City if he succeeds in the most competitive league in world football with a team not possessing a unique talent like Messi.

Read more: Ferguson left a huge void but United decline was not inevitable

Maybe he feels the pressure to prove himself again - it would explain his passionate performance at yesterday's pre-match press conference - but while Guardiola accepts responsibility for results, the setbacks appear only to intensify his determination to win.

"Yes, I am responsible for the outcome (in Barcelona)," he said. "I've come here for three years, my third month at Barcelona and Bayern Munich was much better than my third month here.

"But to become a good journalist, you need time - it's the same with me.

"I worked in Barcelona, Munich, now I work here, but the players are completely different - I need time.

"I hear many times people say that Pep is coming here to change English football. I said at the beginning to forget about it because I am not coming here to change absolutely anything.

"I want to learn and I will try to change one way to play for my players. I will try to convince them they can have fun and play good and win as many games as possible and fight for titles.

"That is my only target, with the players that are working with every single day.

"That is why Manchester City called me, to try to play in the way I believe with the players that I have.

"Of course I'm not going to play long balls when the tallest striker I have is short, but of course I'm going to use (Sergio) Aguero, who has the quality to score goals in the right moment.

"But to achieve what they (Barcelona) achieve, we need decades. Cruyff started when he arrived in 1989/90. I am ambitious, but not to change what is impossible to change in the short time? It's impossible."

Guardiola's reference to Aguero, who he left out of the starting line-up against Barcelona, is a crucial factor.

The manager insists that the Argentinian has the ability to play through the middle for City against the likes of Barca, but his omission for that game prompts the question as to what Guardiola would do if his team were to face his former club in a Champions League final.

Would Aguero start, or would he be sacrificed for another midfielder again, as in the Nou Camp?

If the answer is the latter, then what does the future hold for the former Atletico Madrid striker?

For Guardiola, however, Aguero's future is not even an issue, unless the player chooses to make it one.

"With respect to Sergio Aguero, I said after the game it was a tactical decision," Guardiola said. "I wanted one midfield player more in the middle, with Kevin De Bruyne, who has the qualities to hold behind the line, behind the back four and make the movements behind the full-backs.

"I try, even though I know how difficult it is, to keep the ball in the Camp Nou. Because when you have the ball, Messi, Neymar, Suarez and so on don't have the ball. At that moment they're still dangerous but less dangerous than when they have it.

"I spoke with Sergio, we talked about that, he was so understanding and helped us a lot from the bench and in the last minutes if the game was close, the last 30/35 minutes and their central defenders were tired, I thought Sergio could help us a lot.

"But I am sorry, when Sergio decides to leave Manchester City, it will be his decision.

"I appreciate him like a football player and appreciate like a man what he did here. My mistake is my mistake. My decision was Sergio Aguero. We lost 4-0.

"The guilty? I'm guilty. We win in Barcelona, I'm a genius. The 10 games of victory - we were going to win four titles? Remember that."

Whether the likes of Aguero or Vincent Kompany, who Guardiola claims declared himself unfit to face Barcelona, do not wish to march in step with his philosophy appears of little consequence to the Catalan.

He is taking City where he wants them to go and he insists he has no time for passengers.

"I'm not going have dinner with them (the players), I do not sleep with them, I don't have long conversations about what they believe," Guardiola said. "But what I feel, they follow me.

"I am a guy so when they don't follow me I will speak with the club, but I feel they follow me." (© Independent News Service)

Manchester City v Southampton, Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 1.30

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