Billion dollar baby
‘Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have been overhyped. They are still good, but not as good as we thought,’ reads the headline to a Duncan Castles piece in Arab News. Strap yourselves in, folks. The article begins thus:
‘”The best team in the world.”
‘”The greatest Premier League team ever.”
‘”Manchester City can be the new ‘Invincibles’ and go on to win the quadruple.”
‘”Favourites to win the Champions League.”
‘One by one the hyperbolic predictions and praise surrounding Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been shown up as such. The dangers of anointing a group of players and the methods of the manager long before the point of a season when the most serious of silverware is handed out are now writ clear.’
Which is fine. But show Mediawatch any respectable individual who does not own a Manchester City shirt with their name on the back who ever uttered the words, ”Manchester City can be the new ‘Invincibles’ and go on to win the quadruple”, and we will show you a bare-faced liar.
Plenty suggested a team unbeaten in the Premier League until January could go the entire season without defeat. Plenty suggested they were the favourites to win the Champions League – bookmakers included. Many suggested they deserved to be in the conversation as one of the greatest Premier League teams ever. But certainly not enough said all of them to write an entire article around the premise, Duncan.
The rest of the piece serves as a dismantling of the idea that Guardiola’s City are an all-conquering force. As the headline states, ‘they are still good, but not as good as we thought’. Or, as Castles himself writes, Guardiola has ‘burned through’ $1.4 billion (£988.1m) in two seasons, and a Carabao Cup and a Premier League title is not a suitable return on the investment.
Those who think claiming Guardiola has spent £988.1m in two years is a bit much, let Castles explain. You see, the Spaniard has spent £511.7m on transfer fees (it’s actually £422.85m, but who’s counting?*), but City’s ‘inflating wage bill’ is added too. Because that’s how this works.
Going by that logic, Jose Mourinho has spent £291.35m on transfer fees, £265m on wages in his first season – a Premier League record – and even more on wages this year at Manchester United. A conservative estimate – simply adding on the first season’s wages again – would put that cost at £821.35m in just two campaigns. And remember, just as Guardiola was responsible for all of City’s outlay, Mourinho must be for United’s.
Is a Europa League, League Cup and a 13-point gap to the top of the Premier League really a solid return on investment? Castles is presumably saving that piece for next week.
It seems as though some football journalists had a brainstorming session this week, for Neil Ashton is singing from the exact same hymn sheet in The Sun.
‘Pull the other one, Pep,’ begins his piece. ‘Prioritising the Premier League, attempting to palm off a Champions League exit as just one of those things, does not wash.’
Sorry to interrupt this masterful construction of a straw man, but did Guardiola ever try and ‘palm off a Champions League exit as just one of those things’?
‘Manchester City boss Guardiola, who led Barcelona to European glory in 2009 and 2011, was brought in to bring the biggest prize in club football to the Etihad. So far, he has failed. Miserably.’
Yes, two years into an initial three-year contract is the perfect time to judge whether someone has ‘failed’ – sorry failed ‘miserably’ – to accomplish what he was brought in to do. He is going to win the league by a stretch.
‘City’s owners – speeding towards a £1billion outlay on Project Pep – certainly do not expect to lose a Champions League quarter-final to Liverpool 5-1 on aggregate.’
Is this a thing now? Are wages included in the ‘outlay’ of every Premier League manager from here on out?
Ashton then tells us that Guardiola ‘has still not come close to matching Pellegrini’ in the Champions League, his predecessor having reached the semi-final of the competition in his last season. What Ashton omits is that Pellegrini only reached the last-16 in each of his first two seasons. It turns out Guardiola has gone one better in the same amount of time.
‘These days, when he does not like the look of a player any more he disposes of them, discarding them for a pricier alternative.’
The same as literally any other elite club manager, then?
‘The squad, Pep would have you believe, needs yet more surgery in the summer. They cannot hope to finally win the Champions League, to bamboozle the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or even Liverpool by just playing fast and loose.
‘City are good, but not that good.’
Anyone else have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu?
Exiting the Champions League at the quarter-final stage is not good enough for Manchester City; Guardiola himself will happily admit that. But suggesting he is hardly an improvement on Manuel Pellegrini? Claiming that they are ‘good’ but nothing more? Having two articles claim Guardiola has overseen spending close to £1bn?
He is strolling towards the Premier League title. He’s doing alright.
How it should be done…
Again, this is not to say that Pep Guardiola or Manchester City are impervious to criticism, just that the tendency to go over the top can grate. This past week has provided an open goal for the critics, but Castles and Ashton have hit the ball far too hard and blazed their efforts over the bar.
David McDonnell taps home in the Daily Mirror:
‘There has been much to admire about Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City this season and the stylish way in which they have marched towards the Premier League title.
‘The majestic attacking fluency, ruthless demolition of opponents and refusal to compromise their manager’s aesthetically-pleasing football principles have made them a joy to watch throughout a remarkable domestic campaign.
‘But for the second season running, when the spotlight was on them in the Champions League knockout phase — the competition the club’s big-spending hierarchy are so desperate to land — boss Guardiola and his players have been found wanting and come up short.
‘And after three successive costly and high-profile defeats in an otherwise almost blemish-free season, Guardiola and his expensively-assembled squad have lost some of their lustre.’
Necessary praise for dominating the Premier League; an admittance that their Champions League performance, though separate, has not been good enough; stating that the squad has lost ‘some of their lustre’, as opposed to declaring this a failed £1billion investment.
McDonnell goes on to add that City have spent £448m on his squad – that’s much more like it – while admitting that Guardiola ‘falling short’ in Europe will ‘concern the board’, which is a much fairer analysis than ‘he has failed’, never mind ‘miserably’.
Most importantly, McDonnell acknowledges that a middle ground exists: that City do not either have be to absolutely phenomenal or absolute failures, but somewhere in between. It is a lesson some of his more reactionary peers could do with learning.
The biggest story in football at lunchtime on Thursday – at least according to The Sun‘s website – is ‘From skinny teen to Hercules… the science behind Ronaldo’s transformation’.
The science? A lot of exercise, a lot of hard work and no alcohol. And you thought science was for nerds. And that the article might contain some insight.
All you need is Lov
‘Dejan Lovren has lifted the lid on the dramatic half-time scenes in the Liverpool dressing room at the Etihad on Wednesday night,’ reads the first paragraph to The Sun‘s story. Which leaves us thinking:
Did Jurgen Klopp sacrifice a newborn calf in the name of Alberto Moreno?
Did James Milner use the 15-minute break to read some Chaucer to the rest of the squad?
Did Ragnar Klavan smear threats to his teammates on the walls using his own faeces?
Tell us, Dejan Lovren.
“To be honest I was shouting a bit at half-time. I told the lads to wake up because it was not good enough and I said we were sitting too deep.
“It was all positive, there was nothing negative.”
Shakespeare would be proud.
Piece of Depay
‘Manchester United fans sent wild after Memphis Depay’s cryptic Instagram post’ – Manchester Evening News.
‘United fans have urged Jose Mourinho to re-sign Memphis Depay after the forward touched down in a mystery location.
‘The 24-year-old’s’s latest Instagram post has got some United fans very excited about an unlikely return. Alongside the photo, which captures Memphis walking down the steps of a private jet, the caption reads: ‘Touch down in….? on the phone with…?’
Memphis’ four million followers have been speculating about where he could have flown into on Tuesday night and a number of United fans are keen on having him back.’
Keep plumbing those depths, guys. And keep claiming you aren’t.
Recommended reading of the day
Paul Wilson on managing in England.
Mark Ogden on Real Madrid v Juventus.
Adam Smith on Tottenham v Manchester City.