Guardi­ola says his City side have to grow up in Europe

The Guardian - Sport - - Football Champions League - Jamie Jack­son Rot­ter­dam

Pep Guardi­ola ad­mits he does not know if Manch­ester City can win the Cham­pi­ons League as his side are still in the “process of grow­ing”. They face Feyeno­ord in their Group F opener at Rot­ter­dam’s De Kuip tonight.

The man­ager’s view may cause some sur­prise as he has just over­seen £226m be­ing spent in the trans­fer win­dow and City’s squad cost £775m to as­sem­ble in to­tal, the most ex­pen­sive ever.

Ben­jamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Eder­son, Danilo and Kyle Walker ar­rived dur­ing the sum­mer. Guardi­ola can also call on Kevin De Bruyne, Ser­gio Agüero, David Silva, Fer­nand­inho, Ni­colás Ota­mendi and Yaya Touré (though he has been left at home), who all played for City against Real Madrid in the 2016 semi-fi­nal.

Yet Guardi­ola said: “I don’t know if we are able to com­pete. We are still in the process of grow­ing. I’m so happy with the play­ers we have. We can do bet­ter than last sea­son – but I don’t know. We’ll see. Last sea­son we did good things, it wasn’t enough [City lost to Monaco in the roundof 16 on away goals]. But of course I am sat­is­fied.

“I don’t know now if we’re able to com­pete for the ti­tles be­cause we’re in the process of grow­ing. We are not dream­ing – when you’re in that po­si­tion [of hav­ing a chance] it’s bet­ter to be calm. When you ar­rive in the last stages you say the dream is close but now it’s still far away.”

Feyeno­ord are the Dutch cham­pi­ons af­ter their head coach, Gio­vanni van Bron­ck­horst, guided the club to a first league ti­tle since 1999. While they are with­out the in­jured Ni­co­lai Jor­gensen, who was the league’s top scorer with 21 last sea­son, Guardi­ola struck a cau­tious note.

“Why is this an easy start? Feyeno­ord have more ti­tles [they won the Euro­pean Cup in 1970] than Manch­ester City. His­tory counts. We can­not deny English teams have more money, spend more money. I grew up lov­ing the Hol­land cul­ture, how they play. I was a foot­ball player work­ing with my idol Jo­han Cruyff [at Barcelona] and af­ter that Louis van Gaal, a lot of Hol­land play­ers in my team.

“We play our first game in the group stage. It’s a dream to be here again for a club like Manch­ester City. We fought a lot to be there to qual­ify. The gap was so close be­tween us and Ar­se­nal and Liver­pool and Manch­ester United, so we fought to be here. I know how com­pli­cated it is. Last sea­son we did not win one game away. I know from my ex­pe­ri­ence even in Barcelona and Bay­ern Mu­nich how it is to qual­ify for the next stage. We made the semi-fi­nals [at Bay­ern] but it was so tough.

“It doesn’t mat­ter who we are play­ing, the fa­mous teams or the lower teams. Hope­fully, the play­ers can en­joy be­ing

‘In the last stages the dream is close but now it’s still far away’ Pep Guardi­ola

here. We are start­ing in a coun­try that ap­pre­ci­ates and loves foot­ball and we will try to do our best.”

Guardi­ola left Touré be­hind in Manch­ester and the Ivo­rian is yet to fea­ture for City in their four games this sea­son. The man­ager said the mid­fielder has been ex­cluded for rea­sons of form.

“I spoke with him and he knows the rea­son why, but it’s be­tween him and me. It’s a sportive de­ci­sion,” Guardi­ola said. “He was so im­por­tant last sea­son. Six play­ers fin­ished their con­tract and he was the only one who stayed be­cause he’s a spe­cial player. But the de­ci­sion is he didn’t play the last game and to­day he is not in the squad, and he knows the rea­son why. He will play soon. It de­pends on the player. I’m al­ways happy [with him] but I de­mand as much as pos­si­ble.”

Guardi­ola will also be with­out Vin­cent Kompany, who has suf­fered his lat­est calf prob­lem. The cap­tain has been plagued with in­juries in re­cent years yet the head coach has no doubts over his fu­ture. “We are tak­ing care of him,” Guardi­ola said. “We’ll see about Vin­cent in the next weeks, but he’ll soon be fight­ing with his team-mates to play.”

In the 5-0 win against Liver­pool in the Premier League on Satur­day, Eder­son sus­tained a se­ri­ous face in­jury, but the goal­keeper’s re­cov­ery has been so quick that he is in the match-day squad.

John Stones, who may line up along­side Ota­mendi and Danilo in a three-man de­fence, said: “Eder­son has got on with it straight­away. Af­ter the game in the chang­ing room he was speak­ing to the boys as if noth­ing had hap­pened, which shows what char­ac­ter he has got.

“He just wants to be around the team, in that en­vi­ron­ment. Ev­ery­one has seen his face, the stitches, the swelling, but he’s got on with it, put a scrum cap on, and he’s been train­ing to­day.”

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