Guardiola's been a revelation at Manchester City and football will never be the same again

Chris Bailey worked alongside the Spaniard for five years and gives a unique insight into how his genius transformed the game

If a week is a long time in politics, then two years is a lifetime in football.

So there will be no panic in the corridors at Manchester City after Pep Guardiola’s announcement that he is thinking of calling time on his glorious, trophy-strewn stay at the Etihad Stadium at the end of next season.

It gives everyone a proper chance to get used to the idea and plan accordingly, and there is also plenty of time for a possible change of heart.

But the clock is certainly ticking on Pep’s love affair with English football and life in Manchester. A dalliance I saw first hand for five years while working in internal media at the club.

City fans have two more busy campaigns to lap up the best football most of them have ever seen.

Young players have 24 months to drain every ounce of knowledge they can from arguably the most transformative coach in history and members of his staff have the chance to dial up their own learning curves. For there is no doubt that Pep will be happy to help them.

There will never be another Josep Guardiola for sure. His intensity and desire for perfection touch everyone he comes into contact with. His never-ending quest for beautiful - combined with winning - football exhausts him and all those around him.

That a man with such a thirst for new experiences has already camped in Manchester for five years and is ready to add another two is in itself a minor miracle. It is likely it will be his longest coaching stint of his career and the mark he has left on all the staff at City is indelible.

Indeed, it wouldn’t be a stretch to argue that English football has changed to his tune since he arrived on these shores from Germany.

The desire to play from the back now percolates through the entire pyramid in England - false nines, inverted full backs, double pivots; other coaches flock to City’s training ground to pick his brain and hope the genius rubs off just a little.

Pep's trophies at Manchester City

You cannot pour the hours into the job that Guardiola does and with the vigour that comes with it without consequence, and in his case it manifests itself as exhaustion. I stood next to him the day after the Champions League defeat in Porto. We chatted about an interview I’d done with chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak but he barely had a voice, he couldn’t wait to forget football and put his feet up for a while. He’d given his all and that’s what he expects of others.

He can tire players, too, with the intensity of his teaching and his desire for them to improve. Everything he does, he wants to do to the best of his ability so others can reach new heights.

That was evidenced when he took a 12-month break from football after leaving Barcelona. He wanted to be largely anonymous, learn about another culture and hone his language skills so he based himself in New York, where he watched basketball and recharged the batteries.

Guardiola is a man who relishes a challenge, he will seldom be happy climbing the same mountain over and over again and certainly not in the same manner or from the same direction. He is also stubborn. He was never going to adapt his philosophy to the Premier League, instead he made sure it was the other way around.

He also has a humble side to his nature. He doesn’t take for granted those who work with the first team who are not superstars. Guardiola is a generous man, happy playing golf with the physios and facilities staff, he is polite and considerate to those who do the laundry and on several occasions each year he accompanies non-playing staff out for big get-togethers. He is well liked by those in his orbit.

Guardiola is essentially a man of the world. He loves meeting people from different cultures with different perspectives. In Manchester it is not unusual to bump into him on the street walking or on his push bike, which he uses for ease of travel and because it's more environmentally friendly.

He can also be a political animal and takes the world’s woes seriously. He immerses himself into the culture of an area often eschewing the finer, more swanky places to explore and experience ordinary life in a city. Most of his charitable efforts, the visiting of very sick members of staff in hospital, the welcoming of visitors to the training ground go unreported because that’s how he wants it.

Those closest to him have always believed he will one day be an international manager and should the Argentina job ever arise then he would immediately have his hand up I’m sure. The USA national team could also be a magnet. There is no doubt that he would like the challenge of winning one of the major international team trophies and testing himself in an environment where he doesn’t get to see the players every day but in short bursts.

One thing for sure as the fire still burns within him, City will not be Guardiola’s last staging post and he will want to leave with a roar and not a whimper, which spells good news for City fans and English football.

The club, meanwhile, has two years to identify a successor and likely a new director of football too. Most would expect Pep’s great friend Txiki Begiristain to also depart at that time.

English football should enjoy Pep while it can. It may never be quite the same again.

Updated: August 26th 2021, 2:42 PM
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