Monday 1 February 2016. The day that it was announced that Pep Guardiola would be the next manager of Manchester City Football Club. The announcement had been years in the making, and City fans across the globe were both relieved and excited to finally land the manager they so desperately longed for.
That was then, though. Here we are over a year later, and how has Guardiola fared thus far in his inaugural campaign in charge? City were eliminated from the League Cup by rivals Manchester United, and then slipped up in the Champions League Round of 16, losing to Monaco on the away goals rule. The Blues currently sit fourth in the Premier League table, and face Arsenal in the semifinals of the FA Cup. But the question needs to be asked: Can Guardiola’s first season be considered a success?
The answer has to be yes.
Many City fans had rather unrealistic expectations for the manager’s first season on the sidelines, and understandably so. The man who led Barcelona and Bayern Munich to multiple league titles and to European success was expected to arrive in Manchester and do the same with an aging Manchester City squad.
Unsurprisingly, the Catalan hasn’t been able to replicate that same success this year with City. But to judge Guardiola’s first campaign on the basis of silverware alone is a bit harsh. He inherited a squad from Manuel Pellegrini with many players well past their prime. Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, and Aleksandar Kolarov are just a few players that are on that list. Not only that, many of the players on the City roster weren’t necessarily good fits for the system and philosophy that the new boss has introduced to the club.
Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to understand why City are in the current position they’re in – fighting for a top four finish and the chance to lift the FA Cup, although neither of those are guarantees.
Not to mention Guardiola has, statistically speaking, endured his worst ever season as a manager —seemingly something that could only happen at a club like City. Ultimately, the Catalan has found life in England to be much more difficult than in Spain and Germany. Injuries to some of his main summer signings have certainly hampered the team’s progress, but there are still many positives to take out of his debut year in the Premier League.
The fans have already seen just what the “Pep Effect” can do when he was able to sign Gabriel Jesus, arguably one of the best young talents in the world, while fighting off interest from the giants of Europe. Jesus even said that the chance to work with the manager was one of the main factors in his decision to make the move to Manchester.
The much-maligned Raheem Sterling, coming off a poor season and an even poorer showing at Euro 2016, has been a revolution underneath Guardiola’s nurturing wing. Leroy Sane looks like he has the potential to become a world-beater. The Catalan has only just begun constructing a squad that will be capable of competing across four different competitions.
The style of play under Guardiola has certainly taken some getting used to among City supporters. At one moment, City are playing the most beautiful football imaginable, and then the next the risky passes have fans groaning out of nervousness. But when the Blues hit their stride, it’s a sight to behold, something the home fans witnessed when they were able to comfortably beat Barcelona 3-1 at the Etihad. Results like that were one of the main reasons Guardiola was brought in. He did something his predecessors, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, could only dream of accomplishing.
Of course, City and Guardiola have faced several setbacks during the 2016-17 campaign, but they have largely been dealing with growing pains during the new manager’s first year in England. There are signs of what this team could be capable of under Guardiola.
After another summer to clear out the deadwood from the club and bring in fresh, new talent – especially on the defensive front – City will be in full contention in all four competitions, with justifiable expectations to hoist several trophies by next season’s end.
To judge Guardiola after one campaign would be harsh, and it’d be even harsher to call his first season a failure. It’s been just the opposite: a successful foundation has been laid for the years to come under his control.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be Guardiola’s City empire. But once it’s finished, City will at last sit at the table amongst the European elite.
Written by Matt Foster
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