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Wednesday 18 January 2017

Independent Pep still controls his own fate

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is master of his own destiny. Photo: Reuters / Anthony Devlin
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is master of his own destiny. Photo: Reuters / Anthony Devlin

Pep Guardiola has rewritten the rule book on what it is to be a great football manager. He is an independent thinker who wants to control every element of his career.

But I'm perturbed to hear talk about retiring. It might still be a notion he has for ten years in the future but when he says "I'm approaching the end of my career as a manager - I am sure of that", I have to wonder.

Great managers are fanatics, addicts. They live for and through the game and cannot be themselves without it.

The cannot see a life which isn't imprinted with the rhythms of the game and even if they did tire of the pressure and the daily grind, they had no choice but to continue because they had no money.

Guardiola is rich and has a choice which is unique in the game.

I've always celebrated that. I thought it was brilliant when he left Barcelona, arguably the best club team of all time, to take a year off in New York.

No great manager has ever done that by choice and I thought he was brave to do it.

Put it this way, can you imagine Alex Ferguson walking away from Barcelona in their pomp had he been manager there? No chance.

Abandon

From today's crop, can you see Jurgen Klopp choosing to abandon Anfield in another 18 months if they team is winning all around it and he is being hailed as a genius? No chance.

Klopp, like Ferguson, is a lifer and the accumulation of a legacy is part of the motivation.

Guardiola wants to be challenged with new things. He's a clever lad and his strategy worked well for him when he left Barcelona.

He came back from his sabbatical refreshed and ready to work his magic at Bayern Munich, a team coming off a treble-winning season, including the European Cup.

He set a three-year limit on that "project" and had a similar time frame in mind when he agreed to come to Manchester.

This is what makes him so different from all the great managers down through the years, up to and including Alex Ferguson.

He sets the terms before he goes in and included in that is the day he will quit. He can, of course, change his mind but that's the point. He is controlling the game.

The one variable he cannot ever completely control is the way his players perform and it is that reality which sees him facing a set-piece Premier League media storm.

It's his turn now.

Because of the odd circumstances which brought so many big-name managers into high-profile clubs over the last 12 months, Guardiola is being compared with every coach who has a decent run and at the moment, his team doesn't measure up.

But Manchester City are still third. They are seven points off the pace set by Chelsea, the club with a manager, Conte, who is making everyone else look incomplete.

He needs time and he will get it from the owners of Manchester City so forget about any idea that he is under internal pressure at his club.

The pressure will come from pundits and hype and won't have any impact on the way he goes about his work.

I think he will dig in and I think he will make it work. It might take a while but he must be given time.

There is an asterisk here, however. By any standard, Guardiola is a bit flaky. As I said, he follows his own path and football doesn't usually accommodate people like that.

That's why I'm a bit worried by his comments. The man who controls the game can walk off the pitch whenever he chooses and I don't think it would be beyond Guardiola to wake up tomorrow and decide he's had enough.

He would be strong enough to do that and I would understand it but I don't think he will.

I think he now knows what he needs to build a proper team at the Etihad and he will set about that in the next two transfer windows.

I accept that other managers like Conte, Klopp and M ourinho have all done a better job but this is just a snapshot, six months in the life of the Premier League.

Give him time and he will get it right.

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