Barca and Bayern glory primes Guardiola for greatest challenge at City


The team of rudderless under-achieving stars finished off the pace in the title race having won only half of their 38 matches, with the overwhelming sense that an injection of talented youth was the way forward.

This same ragged bunch fell short in a bid for redemptive Champions League glory by virtue of a lacklustre 1-0 aggregate defeat in the semi-finals.

Thankfully, Pep Guardiola was on his way to sift through the rubble - Barcelona would never look back from that inspired appointment in May 2008.

It does not take the Catalan tactician's famously meticulous eye for detail to notice these forgettable statistics and traits are also common to Manchester City, circa 2015-16.

His Barcelona experience pours cold water on the view that Guardiola was merely fortunate to happen upon the player and the team of the 21st century.

Having made his name as a majestic holding midfielder at Camp Nou, he understood the gravity of tensions and unrest among a unique fanbase.

Guardiola jettisoned Ronaldinho, Deco and any others who would not conform to his unflinching vision and was richly rewarded with an unforgettable treble.

If sweeping the board defined his tenure at Barca, it was the treble collected weeks before he came through the door at Bayern Munich that would loom large over three decorated seasons in the Bundesliga.

At a club where former playing icons comprise the hierarchy and dominance is expected, Guardiola certainly gained hard-won respect if not adoration.

To suggest he heads into Saturday's Premier League opener with City against Sunderland having never faced adversity in a sensational career is utter folly. Nevertheless, this is unquestionably Guardiola's biggest challenge to date and how he tackles it promises to be intriguing.

"I have no complaints about the team, the opposite, I'm really surprised," Guardiola said, encouraging a feelgood factor after winning last month's friendly against Borussia Dortmund on penalties. "The fans can be so proud."

Nevertheless, the manager's ruthless side has also been in evidence.

Samir Nasri has cast himself as the budget Ronaldinho of the piece - arriving overweight for pre-season training and being subjected to specific training to remedy the problem.

Guardiola did not shy away from the issue and, while the slack admin work that led to the premature inclusion of John Stones in City's squad for the Champions League play-off tie with Steaua Bucharest stole headlines on Tuesday, the decision to omit Nasri, Eliaquim Mangala and Wilfried Bony was significant.

There were only 21 players named in a list allowing 25. First-teamers Nasri, Bony and Mangala could have easily been accommodated, but Guardiola is here to placate no one.

The pages of Sheikh Mansour's chequebook will continue to flap but City's latest splurge has an eye on the future and their star recruit's penchant for developing talent.

"It's much easier to train youngsters than it is older players," Guardiola said in Marti Perarnau's book Pep Confidential. "You feel like you are really coaching.

"You just take them by the scruff of the neck and bring all the talent out, just like squeezing an orange. I get so much more out of it - and it's a lot more fun."

England defender Stones and Germany attacker Leroy Sane are the two most expensive recruits to the Etihad Stadium this close-season, yet their prime years should be some way off.

Prodigious South Americans Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno will begin their City careers out on loan and Ukraine midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko is tipped to do likewise.

Across town, Jose Mourinho's Manchester United incomings are headed by bona-fide global superstars in the form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba - apples to Guardiola's oranges.

However, buying for tomorrow does not mean City's boss will expect anything less than excellence today.

After an opening 1-0 defeat at minnows Numancia in 2008-09, Barcelona went 22 games unbeaten to take a grip on LaLiga they would not relinquish. In his maiden campaign at Bayern, 14 wins and two draws from 16 league matches before the mid-season break reduced an often keenly contested title battle to a procession.

Later that season, Guardiola made a half-time switch to direct tactics, turning a 1-0 deficit at Stuttgart into a 2-1 victory.

Asked by Perarnau whether he had abandoned some notion of his footballing principles, Guardiola replied bluntly: "What the f*** are you talking about, mate? We needed to win the game."

Amid musings over sophisticated stylistic innovation, renewed hostilities with Mourinho, the peculiarities of the English game and a squad in transition, that simple and stark bottom line will remain unmoved for Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.