Sunday 18 March 2018

John Giles: Guardiola has one clear advantage over his rivals - and it's why I make Man City title favourites

Pep Guardiola.
Pep Guardiola.
John Giles

John Giles

PEP Guardiola stands alone as the new Premier League gets ready to rumble into gear.

No other top club manager can claim the control he enjoys at the Etihad and that’s the reason I make Manchester City favourites to win the title this year.

Since early June, I have seen clear signs at all the top clubs that there are issues about who has the final say on transfer policy and that probably applies to Premier League champions Chelsea more than anyone else.

Conte and Chelsea set the highest standard of all last season and the Italian did it from a standing start.

Logically, he should have expected 100pc backing from his owner and those around him at the club but the moment I saw that he had been given a wage rise but not a contract extension I knew that anything was possible at Stamford Bridge.

It is shocking but not surprising that Conte finds himself fighting for respect. Roman Abramovich has perfected the dark art of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

The Chelsea owner seems to have made provision for the inevitable sacking by not extending Conte’s contract and exposing himself to yet another big pay-off for a successful manager who can’t work with him any more.

Whatever Abramovich is up to, it won’t be good for Conte. Disquiet first crystallised around a fight with Chelsea’s technical director, Michael Emelano, over Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku and he only won that one by default when Everton agreed a deal with Manchester United.

Conte has said he doesn’t have enough players while Emelano has been cementing his position by doing a roaring trade in young lads who will never make the first team but have netted a £130m profit.

The sale of Nemanja Matic, a key man last season, to Manchester United set alarm bells ringing for me. Was that Conte’s call or just business?

The answer came last weekend when he made it very clear it was not his call. Don’t rule out a major explosion before August is out.

No such drama with the blue side of Manchester. Guardiola has been foot perfect all summer and made big additions to his squad early and often.

There has been no fuss, no negative talk from him about his club missing transfer targets and I even saw Yaya Toure give a very convincing interview about the season ahead and his commitment to making it a great one for City.

Just a year ago, the only question about Toure was how long it would take for Guardiola to move him on but there has clearly been a meeting of minds and that shows that Guardiola’s influence and control is working well.

So the signs are good for City and Guardiola, not least because of the business he has done. I reckoned he would need two windows to put his stamp on the team and the arrival of Danilo, Ederson Moraes, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker will help him do that.

If I have one reservation, it has to be around how he will choose to deploy these players and whether he persists with his very odd experimentation now that he feels he has the right men to do it.

We will have to wait for the first few games of the season to see but in the meantime I can only deal with the evidence of the summer and in that context I think he is well ahead of his rivals.

It is quite amazing to run through the list just a few days before the kick-off and identify a common strand which binds all the other managers together.

To a man, none of them can put hand on heart and swear that he is the deciding voice on player transfers.

Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are all dealing with owners and middle men who have their own ideas about how the transfer market should operate.

Herald Sport

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