Monday 19 March 2018

New City boss insists 'success without playing the way you like to play means nothing to me' ahead of Sunderland opener

Pep Guardiola discussed his new role as Manchester City manager ahead of the curtain-raiser against Sunderland. Picture Credit: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Pep Guardiola discussed his new role as Manchester City manager ahead of the curtain-raiser against Sunderland. Picture Credit: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Jason Burt

And so the show is back. The Premier League returns today with all the glitz, glamour and glory, the glittering cast list.

And, amid the intriguing new narrative of a world championship of the best managers, there is a different impresario; another way, perhaps. And a man who might just change this league in the way that Jose Mourinho did a dozen years ago.

Mourinho himself has returned - again - but it is across Manchester, at Manchester City, not United, and with Pep Guardiola, that the greatest level of fascination exists. Not least when Guardiola embraces that himself.

"Success without playing the way you like to play means nothing to me," the Spaniard said on the eve of the season, on the eve of facing David Moyes' Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium, sitting in a side-room at City's gleaming training complex for an informal, post-press conference briefing.

Of course all managers say similar things but maybe not with the same level of clear-eyed conviction. Moyes will want to win his way; as will Mourinho.

They all have their philosophy but are often willing to adapt pragmatically along the way.

Instead there was an uncompromising thread to the manner in which Guardiola said he wanted to do it as, after dominating La Liga and the Bundesliga, he turned towards England and the emotion, competition and physical intensity of the Premier League, a league that has always fascinated him.

"I want to play good," Guardiola said, with emphasis. "I want my team to play how I want. Winning the title increases your numbers on your CV.

"But to speak about your CV is the most boring thing, to see who has better numbers than you in the group gives me no pleasure. It's about imagining how you would like this team to play in England."

Trophy-hunters such as Mourinho will wrinkle their noses at that, making the renewed rivalry and its proximity all the more delicious; second is nothing to Mourinho with his mantra of "winning football" and, you suspect, the same applies to Guardiola (right).

The latter has won a league title in six of his past seven seasons, after all, so is hardly an ineffective purist, not least because of his discipline and demanding work ethic.

But Guardiola concurs with Arsene Wenger's assessment that there "eight or nine" Premier League contenders this season, which could make for an extraordinary campaign.

They cannot all win it or even finish in the top four. For Wenger, Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino and Guardiola, not to mention the champion that is Claudio Ranieri, there might be pressure, failure or departure before next May.

And that is without another Leicester City turning their world upside down.

"It is the only league where many, many teams can win the title. That's why I am here," Guardiola said. "The expectations are high. If we don't win it will be a big disappointment for the people - the media and fans. I have to handle that."

His overarching message was clear: it will take "time" and surely he will be granted that at City, given his status and how hard and long they fought to hire him, but there will be "soul" and fight from day one as he drills his players into playing the high-tempo, possession-based football that he demands and that begins at the back.

It is also why he accepted that John Stones, at just 22 and signed for £47m from Everton with much to learn, may be his key summer signing.

"Because we didn't buy another centre-half or full-back," Guardiola said. "But we cannot put all the pressure on John Stones."

The basics of the way Guardiola wants to play have not changed since he first took charge of Barca B, just nine years ago, embarking on the coaching career that has marked him out, aged 45, as the most coveted and highly regarded manager of his generation.

"We were able to do it in the fourth division with Barcelona B, bad pitches," Guardiola said. "So why can't we do it in better conditions, better players? People say, 'Why, you don't play long balls?' No. We have to train more. That's why I'm the coach."

It begins at 5.30pm for City today; for Guardiola, an occasion when, for once, philosophy might just come second to endeavour while he -attempts to get his methods across.

"The people want to see the best City they have ever seen," he said. "That is impossible. But I can convince the players to put something on the field - not depending on the tactic, on the -opponents, but something for themselves, on the inside (beats chest)."

Let the passion play begin.

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