Manchester City’s patience rewarded with Pep Guardiola coup and their strategy succeeded

Making City contenders in the Uefa Champions League will be their new manager’s main goal to highlight just how far the club have moved forward, writes Richard Jolly.
Outgoing Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola, left, will take over from Manuel Pellegrini, right, at Manchester City on a three-year deal from the end of the season, the English club announced Monday. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)
Outgoing Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola, left, will take over from Manuel Pellegrini, right, at Manchester City on a three-year deal from the end of the season, the English club announced Monday. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

To put the arrival of the Galactico of the technical area into perspective, it is worth noting that the club he has agreed to join were rubbing shoulders with Lincoln City, Macclesfield Town and Wrexham 17 years ago.

Nine years ago, they were in the early throes of a run, beginning on New Year’s Day, when they did not score a league goal at home for over seven months.

Even after the Abu Dhabi United Group’s takeover, Manchester City propped up their Uefa Champions League group three years ago.

The fact that Pep Guardiola has now chosen City is a sign of the speed and the scale of their progress. The last time he picked a club, he opted for Bayern Munich, then winners of 22 Bundesliga titles and four European Cups.

Bayern were the blue-chip choice, City the ambitious side pushing to join them.

The ratification of Guardiola’s summer move proves they have it now. They still lack the pedigree of the established order, but they are reshaping the pecking order.

The Premier League may struggle to attract the very best footballers in the world, but the most coveted manager is bound for Manchester.

It demonstrates how the size of the transformation underway in east Manchester. A perfectionist such as Guardiola may struggle to find fault with the facilities.

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The state-of-the-art City Football Academy training complex, all 16.5 pitches and six hydrotherapy areas of it, is designed to be finest in sport.

The squad was subjected to a youthful, expensive revamp in the summer, when Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling were added, and it looks more Guardiola-friendly.

Installing his friends Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain as chief executive and director of football in 2012 paved the way for the Catalan’s arrival. Tellingly, though, Bayern had more appeal then.

City tried and ended up with Manuel Pellegrini, a deluxe, long-term caretaker.

Three years later, City have finally got their man. They have played a long-term game, showing no interest when managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti became available.

Not for them the scattergun searches that Chelsea and Manchester United may be embarking upon in the summer.

It prompted the question of what would happen if Guardiola eluded them – would they carry on extending Pellegrini’s contract forever? But it proved irrelevant.

City’s confidence was justified. Their patience was rewarded. Their strategy succeeded.

The reality is that many in football, Manchester United included, thought this was a done deal some time ago.

City have been planning assiduously for Guardiola. No manager is an exact replica of the 45-year-old, with his tactical innovation, geometric precision and belief in aesthetics, but Pellegrini at least shares a similar fondness for attacking football.

He has eased the transition from Roberto Mancini’s City to Guardiola’s. The reality is that it will probably take a superior manager to the Chilean to effect the next part of the journey.

Guardiola’s record, as a winner in 2009 and 2011 and a perennial semi-finalist, suggests he is City’s best chance of lifting the Champions League.

That assumes an importance for anyone but for those who want permanent membership of the elite, it has a greater significance. Chelsea endured a series of frustrating near-misses before their 2012 triumph.

While Pellegrini has a final campaign to conclude, City have not come close yet.

Their successes have been purely domestic. Every other aspect of the club – Premier League performances, recruitment of coveted players, the construction of the training campus, the booming revenues and commercial income – has shown more evidence of advancement.

They have made giant strides in recent years. But none, arguably, is as big as this.

The fans who, since their days facing Lincoln and co in League One, have sung “we’re not really here” will have to rationalise this: Pep Guardiola really will be there.

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Published: February 1, 2016 04:00 AM

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