It was Pep Guardiola’s willingness to keep things just as they were that impressed Ferran Soriano, the Manchester City chief executive, on the previous occasion he hired him as manager, at Barcelona in 2008. “It was Josep’s good judgement to take the team left by [Frank] Rijkaard, make only a few changes to it, and regain the commitment of very talented players so that the club could go on to in several titles in the following season,” Soriano reflected several years later.
It won’t be quite the same this time. The spine of the side Guardiola takes over was established as far back as Roberto Mancini’s tenure. Two of its core components – Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure – increasingly seem past their best and the dependency of Sergio Aguero is more acute than ever.
Re-shaping will be necessary and though the well-established City model sees Guardiola’s old friend Txiki Begiristain leading the recruitment – just as he did when they and chief executive Soriano formed a triumvirate at the Nou Camp – Guardiola will want an input.
City’s player recruitment system is the most enlightened in the Premier League – problem positions agreed months ahead with four or five targets for each one – yet the acquisitions don’t always deliver immediate dividends. Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi, Jesus Navas and Wilfried Bony only go to show it. You also wonder where the route back is for Samir Nasri, now omitted from City’s Champions League squad after three months out with hamstring trouble.
The logic behind the decision to exclude Nasri and include Kelechi Iheanacho, as outlined by Manuel Pellegrini yesterday, underlined the perennial risk of injury to Aguero, albeit that he has an uninterrupted month of football behind him now. “We need Kelechi, because with Wilfried Bony injured, we cannot afford any risks if Kun [Aguero] is injured,” the Chilean said.
The confirmation of Guardiola’s appointment a full four months out from the close season is a substantial positive for City. The enhanced appeal of the club to prospective targets for next season comfortably outweighs the risk of Manuel Pellegrini appearing to be a lame duck manager. But Guardiola’s long lead-in carries its challenges, too, adding to the weight of expectation which will be monumental by the time he actually arrives.
It will be Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool to the power of ten – and few untested Premier League managers have been proclaimed such a saviour as the German was ahead of an English baptism which revealed the complexity and level of difficulty its domestic football represents.
The reason why Soriano judged Guardiola to be way ahead of Jose Mourinho when the two men were in for the Barcelona job was the coach’s preference for working with a small first team squad with “stable hierarchies and not a lot of internal competition.” Guardiola chose “to work with 14 or 15 players that have his total confidence,” Soriano wrote. That’s a happy consequence of having Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in that number. It is a different kind of challenge this time.
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