It was never in doubt that Pep Guardiola had already secured his place as the greatest manager in Manchester City’s history with his stellar achievements for the club since he took on the job at the helm. This week, however, saw him cementing his place as a highly venerated club legend in the eyes of the fans as he defiantly with City pride took on the “whisperers” and critics who took sniper shots at City after their 2-season Champions League ban was lifted by the CAS.
With poise and purpose, he pointed two fingers at the detractors in an ‘Up yours!” symbolic gesture and gallantly defended City’s honor and the hard-earned club’s achievements even way before his arrival.
It’s a view long mooted that the snooty, upper-crust echelons of the English football establishment have always turned up their noses at City’s achievements with derision and scorn, sneering at their each and every success with veiled accusations that their trophies are bought with the immense wealth from the coffers of their Arab owner rather than earned.
Guardiola had been biding his time waiting for his opportunity to strike back – and the opportunity availed itself after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cleared City of the charge of breaching UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. In true Guardiola attack fashion, the man many consider as football’s greatest manager ever, delivered a simple yet devastating message: Manchester City have done nothing wrong and it’s time to start according due respect because we’ve planted our roots and are here for the long run.
The erstwhile, fiery Spaniard delivered a clear and passionate defence of the club, beginning with it’s proud history and the promise of a vibrant, exciting future, accompanied with the latent, undercurrent message to th eir detractors to end the sneering and snickering.
City’s accomplishments say it all – a haul of 4 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups and 5 League Cups since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover, all won on the pitch with honest blood, sweat and tears and not the gains from boardroom or bank vault manipulations. So, enough of lame excuses and caveats from those envious of City’s success thus far and their growing, and glowing, pre-eminence in European football.
“I know that for elite clubs, especially Liverpool, United, Arsenal, it is uncomfortable us being here, but they have to understand we deserve to be with them, competing with them,” Guardiola said.
“We want to go on the pitch competing with them and try to achieve the things that they have achieved in the past, decades ago. We deserve to be stronger year-by-year.”
Guardiola is insistent that City’s propensity to spend has not skewed football accomplishments in England or Europe their way, as some claim has happened or will happen. Cases in point are Bayern Munich winning their eighth successive Bundesliga title and Juventus closing in on their ninth Serie A title in a row, while Guardiola’s side deservedly, by his own admission, missed out on the League title to a spectacular Liverpool team – significantly the fourth Premier League winners in five years.
Of equal significance too is the indisputable fact that of the four Premier League titles won by City, three were claimed on the final day of the season. The other, brilliantly accomplished with a record-breaking 100 points, was the fruit of the labors of a supremely talented squad, one brilliantly coached.
And despite their valiant accomplishments, credit has been in short supply. City’s great players, as in the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, are unquestionably amongst the best the decade has seen but no City player has ever been named the PFA’s Player of the Year.
This is invariably, and undeniably, an insult to a generation of spectacularly talented players exacerbated by the culture of acrimony with every success of City tarnished by insinuations of indulgent spending excesses.
Whether City would have added another title this year had they signed United’s Alexis Sanchez, Fred and Harry Maguire or Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, we will never know because, as Guardiola reminded the detractors, City had refused to pay the asking price, even though they could have afforded to. Which justifiably throws the accusation of City buying success out the window.
In truth many had taken delight in City being hauled up by UEFA’s attempt to punish them with infringing FFP regulations, but their just exoneration by the independent CAS can now put an end to the jibes and the murmurings.
All things considered, Guardiola’s response was a measured one but delivered nonetheless with laser-like precision and efficacy as he mounted his stallion and boldly charged down the sanctimonious sacred cows of the past with their hordes of mindless chattering minions of the present.
Spending big on players? Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and ex-United doyen Sir Alex Ferguson were told that they would not have been nearly as successful had they not invested heavily to build their fantastic squads. So the traditional elite of football are accorded the privilege to spend whilst the likes of City are not?
“If you want to be on top, all the clubs (spend), if you don’t, it’s more difficult,” Guardiola candidly professed. “Because being a good manager, like I am, I’m not good enough without good players.”
That’s honesty and candor for you, something the majority of managers in European football would gladly agree with, only if they are not beguiled by the green-eyed demon.
In response, current rivals gave their opinions, with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp stating:
“I don’t know it was a good day for football,” and adding “I don’t know enough how they came to the verdict and I am not a lawyer anyway.”
Jose Mourinho, one of the greatest managers of the Premier League era and long-time nemesis of Guardiola, now reduced to the role of pantomime baddie, said:
“I don’t know if Manchester City are guilty or not but either way it’s a disgraceful decision.”
And Guardiola’s response?
“I tell Jose and Jurgen that today was a good day for football.
“A very good day. It was clear what happened. And that’s nice.”
Surprisingly, or not at all, depending on one’s stance, many of City’s rivals had joined forces to request CAS to withhold any attempts from the club to freeze their suspension pending the outcome of an appeal. Unfortunately for them the slap in the face and the embarassment they got was that City never made such an application at all. All they did was ask for the hearing to be held quickly so they could be cleared as soon as possible. Isn’t that the least they could do?
“They must be happy because we didn’t break the rules,” Guardiola added.
“We played the same rules as all the clubs in the Premier League and UEFA.”
Guardiola comments haven’t always resonated with City’s fans as much as he may have liked in the past. But his response to the CAS decision, and in particular to the negative reactions of their critics, cut through perfectly in a week when City’s supporters were able to finally celebrate and shrug off the acrimonious insinuations that have dogged them since UEFA first announced its investigation.
Guardiola, in the grand manner of a Queen’s Counsel defence attorney, proudly drew on the history of a club that won the league before Chelsea, the FA Cup before Manchester United and a European trophy before Liverpool. He drew a direct line cutting through all the ups and downs the club had experienced from their early beginnings in their former Maine Road home to the unprecedented success he has enjoyed since he arrived in 2016.
The Catalan’s bond to the club has never felt stronger than at this moment after his impassioned defence of the club’s honor and integrity. And his plea for all the detractors to snuff the insinuations, the bickering and the muted accusations behind the scenes.
That is certainly a man of honor.