“There’s still so much I could give to these players, but I can’t give them everything I’ve got,” Pep Guardiola told a trusted member of his backroom staff in the bowels of Camp Nou minutes after Barcelona’s heartbreaking loss to Chelsea in the Champions League in 2012.
It was this conversation that signaled the end of the Guardiola era in Catalunya. In the weeks that followed, words like fatigue, politics, and mistrust were thrown around to make sense of his sudden departure. It really wasn’t so complex. Pep has always been all in or nothing.
Four years on from that conversation, he dove headfirst into the Premier League, taking charge of Manchester City in 2016. Pep’s City: The Making of a Superteam chronicles Guardiola’s time so far in Manchester and a club that he has been able to give everything he’s got.
With a subject as rich as Guardiola, it’s easy to get lost in the glory of his past achievements. The writers, Lu Martin and Pol Ballús, find the right amount of restraint and smartly use his time at Barcelona and Munich to show how he’s evolved as a coach and leader.
In the summer after his first season in England, Pep realized that self-confidence was a big issue for his team. At Bayern and Barca, he would extensively highlight the strengths and threats of the opposition to reduce complacency amongst his squad. City lack the stature of a Barca or Bayern, and Pep’s style of messaging was making his players nervous. A new approach was adopted, with communication being more motivational than tactical. Take for instance his reaction in the aftermath of being knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool in 2018 – “When things go badly like that, it’s important to reassure them. I’ll say, ‘Lads, you’re fucking superstars,’” he details.
The parts of the book that dwell on his manic side and eccentricities make for a fascinating read. On match days, Pep prefers to spend the day alone, pacing up and down in his office, lost in his own world. Food and conversation are kept to a minimum. For the City players, it is a sight to behold and a source of great entertainment. “I piss myself laughing when I see him pacing up and down the corridors like that, usually barefoot and talking away to himself. It’s like he has no idea where he is. He’ll come out of his office, walk straight past Txiki (Begiristain) without a word, come into the canteen and walk about, still saying nothing. He’ll stop and stare at us all and then off he goes again, back to his office,” said Sergio Aguero.
All through the book, there are various chapters devoted to specific games that have defined the Guardiola era. Aside from bringing the emotional impetus, they help highlight City’s tactical nous. The one on City’s 6-0 thrashing of Chelsea in February last year is particularly interesting; of how performance analyst Carles Planchart rightly predicted Sarri’s ultra-attacking strategy and had the team playing out from the back all week to counter the press.
Guardiola’s backroom team is a reflection of his leadership style. It’s the reason they play such a prominent role in this narrative. We learn that while Pep does have his trusted lieutenants, he always wants to retain members of the previous regime to serve as a link to the club’s philosophy. How else can you explain Brian Kidd and Mikel Arteta working together? His eye for talent goes beyond just players. There’s a lovely anecdote of how he recruited the wife of a friend he knew from his sabbatical in New York to become the club’s dietician. With an entire chapter devoted to her and how she’s created ‘Manchester’s Best Restaurant’ at City’s training ground, her importance at the club is telling. Pep’s relationship with his backroom team is centered around trust.
He sees delegation as a strength. “I don’t want followers around me, I want leaders, people who are willing to take full responsibility, who take ownership of their decisions and can think for themselves,” he outlines. When City took on Arsenal in his first season at the club, he didn’t hesitate in handing the reigns to Arteta for the game.
It’s this sense of trust that permeates from the top of the food chain. The opening chapters of the book are devoted to Ferran Sorriano and Txiki Begiristain, the architects behind the City project. They make up the spine of the club, and hence the book. We learn that since Sorriano’s arrival at the club in 2012 as CEO and his subsequent appointment of Txiki Begirstain as Director of Football, Guardiola has always been the number one choice for the project. Under the disguise of scouting players, they’d regularly fly to Munich to put out feelers. Sorriano and Begirstain talk about Pep like a prodigal son who needs protection. He has a say in every decision, and they’re prepared to back him every step of the way.
After a particularly frustrating draw to Everton at the start of his second season, Pep is alone in his office, distraught. Enter Khaldoon Al Mubarak, managing director of City group – “You’re our man, there’s no one else. Don’t worry, it won’t be like last season,” he says. Guardiola wasn’t the first piece of the City project, he was the last. The crown jewel. When the recent Champions League ban was put on City, you now understand, as a reader, why Pep was so quick to come out and pledge his allegiance to the club and its people.
In many ways, the book is similarly structured to the Amazon series Manchester City: All in Or Nothing; the sections on the 2018-2019 season eerily feel like reading the script of the show. However, Pep’s City doesn’t flow as smoothly as Pep’s City. For the non-Premier League fan, the constant back and forth between matches and seasons can be confusing. While it certainly isn’t monotonous, the book is guilty of being repetitive. There are numerous instances of matches and anecdotes that are outlined at length in a chapter, being summarized again a couple of chapters later as a reference to some other point being made.
My biggest pet peeve with the book is its title. Winning two titles doesn’t make City a Superteam. Sure, they are one of the greatest teams to have graced the Premier League, but only prolonged domination either at a domestic or European level makes a team worthy of that tag.
After finishing the book, you’re left with an incomplete feeling. The problem isn’t the writing, it’s the source material. More specifically, there isn’t enough of it. The reader is given an intimate look into life at Manchester City and it’s very obvious that success will be inevitable. But the fact of the matter is that City isn’t a superteam yet, and there aren’t enough performances and trophies to write about. It begs the question – if this book was written perhaps a couple of years too early.