“Sometimes in this world, you make unpopular decisions because you think they’re right.”
Know which great “philosopher” said that? George W. Bush. And people say he’s just the president who “brought America to its lowest moral standing in history” (Greenwald, G, 2007).
To say Bush was often wrong during his presidency would be an understatement of epic proportions, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. The mark of a great leader is somebody who makes decisions based on what they think is right even when many of their followers are telling them they’re wrong.
When Pep Guardiola walked through the door at Manchester City, we were told to expect him to shake things up a bit. The Catalan isn’t somebody who suffers fools gladly and the players in City’s squad who haven’t been pulling their weight or aren’t fully committed to the cause would swiftly and rightly be pointed in the direction of the nearest exit.
But what we didn’t expect was Joe Hart’s name to be at the top of Pep’s list of casualties this summer. The club’s longest serving, most passionate player has been and will continue to be a fine goalkeeper, but it would appear his face, or rather, his feet, don’t fit under the new regime and that’s about all there is to it.
Selling Hart may well be a deeply unpopular and potentially riot-provoking decision, but City’s performance in Romania’s capital on Tuesday night provided us with the timeliest of timely reminders that Pep might just know what he’s doing after all.
Many of us expected the first leg of City’s Champions League qualifying tie against Steaua Bucharest to be a tight affair from which we just hoped the Blues could take a valuable away goal back to Manchester with them. In the event, it was a total whitewash. City ran out 5-0 winners in the Arena Nationala but it could have been five by half time and by the end, the hosts were lucky it wasn’t 10.
If dominating possession, playing most of your football in the final third and creating a hatful of chances are hallmarks of a “footballing lesson”, Steaua will have learned an awful lot from this experience. At times, the game was so one-sided it was like watching somebody play a computer game on the easiest difficulty setting.
Gabriel Tamas in City: 'It was a nightmare, they could have scored 7! It was like we had bad luck in our boots!'
— Emanuel Roşu (@Emishor) August 16, 2016
Alright, it was only Steaua Bucharest and City will face tougher tests ahead (beginning with Saturday’s trip to Stoke), but nobody ever won 5-0 away from home by accident and the result is perhaps most remarkable for what it represents at this point in Guardiola’s tenure.
10 days ago, City faced Arsenal in Gothenburg in their final pre-season friendly and looked thoroughly under-cooked and out of tune. On Saturday, it took a late Paddy McNair own goal to spare their blushes at home to Sunderland. If Tuesday night wasn’t City getting fully into their groove, they’re certainly well on the way and I fear for anyone who has to face them when they get there.
Guardiola’s side were an absolute joy to watch in Bucharest, possibly more so than any of Roberto Mancini’s or Manuel Pellegrini’s teams ever were. They came flying out of the traps and silenced a hostile home crowd in no time at all. Sergio Agüero squandered an early chance to give his side the lead when his spot-kick was saved by Steaua’s Florin Niță but the scoring was soon opened when David Silva drilled home having been teed up superbly by the effervescent Raheem Sterling.
Agüero then blazed another penalty over the bar but on the stroke of half time, the Argentine made amends by guiding home the first of his three goals on the night following more fine work from Sterling.
If Sterling meant that touch into Aguero's path, give him the Ballon D'or now and be done with it.
— Typical City (@TypicalCity) August 16, 2016
In the second half, Nolito – a player whose summer signing was greeted with little by way of fanfare but could just be one of the shrewdest City have made for a long time – got in on the act first by scoring himself to make it 3-0 and then by linking up wonderfully with Agüero for City’s Barcelona-esque fourth goal of the night. It was undoubtedly the pick of the bunch, and it all started with the goalkeeper…
— Manchester City FR (@MCIFrance) August 16, 2016
Agüero completed his hat-trick late on, destroying the last remaining scintilla of doubt that City might not be competing in the Champions League proper this season and tipping the scoreline over into the rout the visitors’ performance richly deserved.
A great deal of credit is due to Pep for the way his tactical innovations have already begun to revolutionise City’s style of play, but his players are also deserving of a great deal of praise for the way they have not only bought into his methods and ideas, but also for all their hard work on and off the pitch so far.
Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta – two players who both seemed to have at least one foot out of the door during the summer – have been exemplary in their performances and their professionalism and their new “half-back” roles seem tailor made for their qualities. David Silva looks close to his best again while Raheem Sterling looks faster and hungrier than ever. Kevin De Bruyne, meanwhile, is still getting to grips with his new “number 8” role but when he does, he and his team will be an even more terrifying proposition than they already are.
It’s still early days, of course, and it’s important not to get too carried away for there will undoubtedly be bumps along the road ahead. The early signs are good, though, and while we might not agree with everything Pep Guardiola says and does, we have to trust that he has his eye on the bigger picture and the club’s best interests at heart. He’s certainly no slouch and he and his players might just reward us for our faith with something very, very special indeed.
Written by Dan Burke
Typical City is funded by the readers via our Patreon page. Please consider funding us with $1 a month so we can continue to operate as we are now. Thank you in advance.