Pep un­der pres­sure to de­liver

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

LON­DON. — “I have high con­fi­dence we are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion. I am very ex­cited about how we are de­vel­op­ing as a team, how Pep has taken the squad and re­ally started a process of go­ing through that nat­u­ral cy­cle of devel­op­ment.” - Khal­doon al-Mubarak, Manch­ester City chair­man, May 2017

In Au­gust Pep Guardi­ola em­barks on a defin­ing sec­ond sea­son as the Manch­ester City man­ager. Af­ter fin­ish­ing third in the English Premier League and be­ing knocked out of the Cham­pi­ons League soc­cer at the last-16 stage he can­not fail again.

Guardi­ola can read the above com­ments and be re­as­sured of Mubarak’s sup­port but he knows pa­tience will wear thin if City are not con­tenders in both com­pe­ti­tions as ef­fec­tively de­manded by Mubarak in the same in­ter­view.

The pres­sure is in­creased by the record spend­ing Guardi­ola hopes to over­see. In sum­mer 2009 Real Madrid spent £218m, with Cris­tiano Ron­aldo at £85m the head­line ar­rival to fol­low Kaká (£56m) and Karim Ben­zema (£31m).

Guardi­ola could pass that amount with an out­lay that may reach £220m-plus and he could spend a quar­ter of a bil­lion be­fore the win­dow closes on Au­gust 31, es­pe­cially if the club’s con­fi­dence over sign­ing Alexis Sánchez proves well-founded.

There is, though, a glar­ing irony at work here. Guardi­ola is the at­tack-only coach (to para­phrase him) whose hopes of achiev­ing suc­cess rest on de­fence, which is why he aims to sign three wide de­fend­ers. The left-back Gaël Clichy (aged 31) and the right-backs Pablo Za­baleta (32) and Bacary Sagna (34) have been al­lowed to leave. Crit­ics might as­sert their de­par­tures come two years too late, given their age and ob­vi­ous de­cline, and Guardi­ola should have ad­dressed the prob­lem when tak­ing over 12 months ago.

If that and the calami­tous ex­il­ing of Joe Hart in favour of Clau­dio Bravo as goal­keeper were the glar­ing mis­takes of a first sea­son in charge, Guardi­ola is de­ter­mined to make amends.

The world record for a goal­keeper came close to be­ing bro­ken with the €40m (£34.69m) paid to Ben­fica for Eder­son. Now Guardi­ola’s fo­cus is on full-back. Brazil’s Dani Alves is ex­pected to ar­rive on a free af­ter his re­lease from Ju­ven­tus. Guardi­ola is also pur­su­ing an­other right-back, Kyle Walker from Tot­ten­ham, and the Monaco left-back Ben­jamin Mendy.

Alves was bought by Guardi­ola for Barcelona in sum­mer 2008. The 34-year-old has vast ex­pe­ri­ence and a win­ning men­tal­ity. He has won six La Liga ti­tles, three Cham­pi­ons Leagues, two Uefa Cups, five Copa del Reys, one Serie A ti­tle, one Coppa Italia and one Copa América, plus 100 caps. At 27 Walker has won lit­tle but is the Eng­land right-back and near­ing his peak. He would be ex­pected to push Alves for a start­ing place.

Alves and Walker of­fer the at­tack­ing po­tency Guardi­ola craves. So too Mendy, the 23-year-old who was part of the fine Monaco side who dumped City out of the Cham­pi­ons League in March. If the France left-back signs he would slot straight into the first team.

Add this trio and City will be trans­formed from a lop-sided squad to one with a sur­feit of riches front to back.

At No. 9 the 20-year-old Gabriel Jesus, a ris­ing star, would vie with Ser­gio Agüero. The at­tack’s sup­port cast would be drawn from a clutch of top play­ers: Leroy Sané, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Ra­heem Ster­ling, and Bernardo Silva. In cen­tral mid­field Ilkay Gün­do­gan, Yaya Touré and Fer­nand­inho are a trio of high-class play­mak­ers and stop­pers.

Cen­tral de­fence is the other area that re­quires strength­en­ing. City dropped out of the bid­ding for Vir­gil van Dijk only when Southamp­ton set the 25-yearold’s price too high. The need for a centre-back arises be­cause Ni­colás Ota­mendi and Alek­san­dar Ko­larov are ques­tion­able deputies. Guardi­ola does have the re­ju­ve­nated cap­tain, Vin­cent Kom­pany, plus the huge po­ten­tial of John Stones as a firstchoice part­ner­ship.

Be­tween now and Septem­ber 1 Guardi­ola has much surgery to per­form. — The Guardian.

Pep Guardi­ola

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