Pep Guardiola will draw on the advice of his mentor Johan Cruyff as he urges his players to enjoy the pressure and emulate the sporting greats when Manchester City play just their second Champions League semi-final.
City face Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday with Guardiola, who has reached the last four in seven previous seasons as manager of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, saying he always feels more calm on this stage.
And he made reference to Barcelona’s first European Cup victory when he was a 21-year-old midfielder and Cruyff, who had inspired Ajax to win the competition three times in the 1970s, addressed his players.
He said: “The mythical sentence to go to Wembley and play our first final in 1992 against Sampdoria is to go out and enjoy it. I learn from Cruyff that when you arrive at this stage all you do is enjoy the game, the pressure, the stage.
"I’ll tell them to enjoy the travel, the moment, the coffee in the terminal, the night and the dinner watching the other semi; enjoy the press conference, the walk, the training. You take responsibility. That’s why the greatest win these competitions in all sports.
“We are privileged to be one of the best four teams in Europe and we must enjoy it. We know how tough it is to be here. Cruyff’s idea was like this. When we arrive it’s not a reason to be worried, or sad or worrying about what happens if we lose.
"Always it happens in my career, when I arrive in the semi-final, I was always calmer than in other competitions. I don’t know why but I have the sense of work well done.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to be there. For Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, for all the teams that have many Champions Leagues in their cabinet, it’s normality. We were looking for many years to be here and it’s incredible: something new.”
Only Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero remain from City’s previous Champions League semi-final, when they lost to Real Madrid in 2016, but Guardiola urged his side not to be intimidated.
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“I want to be ourselves,” he said. “That is my wish. I know the weapons they have. Every single person who loves football, they all know the quality they have. But in the semi-finals, you don’t play a low average player.”
In particular, PSG have the two most expensive players in history, in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. “He will have the whole of football ahead of him in the next years, similar to [Erling Braut] Haaland,” said Guardiola of the Frenchman.
He first faced Neymar in the 2011 Club World Cup final, which Barcelona won 4-0, and said his star-studded team were impressed by the Brazilian’s talent. He felt that the forward line Neymar joined was the greatest ever.
“When I showed 10 or 15 clips, I said: ‘This is the king of Santos.’ All the players had their mouths open and said: ‘Oh my God, what a player. I’m pretty sure if he’d stayed in Barcelona they’d have won two or three Champions Leagues more, with Neymar, [Lionel] Messi, [Luis] Suarez, the best three I’ve seen.”
Winger Riyad Mahrez drew a comparison with the big names at other clubs. “Obviously we don't have big stars like Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo but everyone can play, everyone makes the difference. And it's more a collective thing.”
Mahrez will return to his native Paris with memories of last season’s defeat to Lyon still hurting him. “The Champions League is the thing we're missing,” he added. “Last season [when City were knocked out by French side Lyon in the last eight] was the biggest disappointment of my career to not go through to the semi-finals.”