Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have been overhyped. They are still good but not as good as we thought

Updated 18 April 2018
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Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have been overhyped. They are still good but not as good as we thought

  • Spaniard's halo has slipped after three defeats in a week
  • Abu Dhabi have backed Guardiola with unprecedented transfer spend

“The best team in the world.”

“The greatest Premier League team ever."

“Manchester City can be the new ‘Invincibles’ and go on to win the quadruple.”

“Favourites to win the Champions League.”

One by one the hyperbolic predictions and praise surrounding Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been shown up as such. The dangers of anointing a group of players and the methods of the manager long before the point of a season when the most serious of silverware is handed out are now writ clear.
City have been exceptional, enthralling, energising, and — in the Premier League — remain on course to set a number of new high watermarks. They have not, however, matched their publicity.

Over the course of a week, a team physically and mentally tired by the demands of Guardiola’s domination football has exited the Champions League to a club that has only qualified for Europe’s premier competition twice in the past seven seasons. A manager who handicapped his team with his own tactical experimentation in the first leg was reduced to blaming referees for a 5-1 aggregate defeat. There was no mention of the fact City had a grand total of three shots on target.

Guardiola has been supported in a fashion never witnessed before in the sport. Such was Abu Dhabi’s desire to place the Spaniard in charge of their football team, City’s owner hired a chief executive and technical director who had worked with the Catalan at Barcelona, and who they believed could persuade him to come to the Premier League.
Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain started investing record transfer fees in players suited to Guardiola’s playing style such as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling before they even had the coach’s signature on a hugely lucrative contract. They overhauled City’s youth system and constructed new training facilities with Guardiola in mind. And when he finally arrived at the club, Abu Dhabi bankrolled him with the largest investment in playing resources football has ever seen.

Guardiola is about to complete his second season in England. Over the course of those two years, the club has committed €586 million ($725 million) to transfer fees, according to CIES Football Observatory’s academic studies (over 53 percent more than their nearest domestic rival). Add City’s inflating wage bill to that recruitment budget and Guardiola has burned through over £1 billion ($1.4 billion) in just two campaigns.

The return on investment in terms of silverware amounts to one domestic title (albeit won in glorious fashion) and one League Cup. Like Bayern Munich before them, Abu Dhabi hired Guardiola to win the Champions League. Their return in that competition is a first knock-out round loss to AS Monaco and a quarter-final loss to Liverpool.
Quizzed on what has gone wrong for him in the European Cup since he quit Barcelona, Guardiola has taken varying public stances in recent days. One has been to revert to his belief that his possession-obsessed football works because it creates more chances than opponents. “Just try to analyze it game by game,” he said last night. “You see the statistics. OK, I’m sorry, we win this season in statistics.”

Another, following Saturday’s three-goal second-half capitulation to Manchester United in front of an expectant home crowd, was to admit to some soul searching. “I thought many times about that. I drop a lot of times Champions League games for 10, 15 minutes. Barcelona, 71 minutes, 0-0; 90, 3-0. It happened many times. Maybe it’s my fault. I have to think about it but I feel when you dominate and you create chances then you are more closer to winning the games.”

One of Guardiola’s many strengths as a football coach is his willingness to reflect on his weaknesses. One of Guardiola’s weaknesses as a football coach has been a refusal to moderate his core beliefs.
Will he ultimately succeed in using the vast financial and organizational advantage Abu Dhabi has provided him with to deliver City first European Cup? Will he even reach a Champions League final for the first time post-Barca? The answer may lie in whether that Guardiola strength can overcome that weakness.


Afghan refugee Nadia Nadim scales summit of women’s football

Updated 19 March 2019
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Afghan refugee Nadia Nadim scales summit of women’s football

  • Nadim sets sights on women's World Cup glory this summer.
  • Former Afghan refugee plans to become a doctor once she hangs up her boots for good.

PARIS: “I don’t really think about the past and what happened,” says Nadia Nadim, the daughter of an executed Afghan general who spent years playing football in the fields beside her refugee camp before becoming a Denmark international.
“I am fortunate to be in a situation where I can play football and love what I do,” adds Nadim, a 31-year-old forward who recently completed a switch from Manchester City to Paris Saint-Germain.
Her story is a remarkable one. She was barely 10 years old when her father was killed by the Taliban, her family fleeing the war-torn nation and finding a new home in Denmark.
The journey from her home in Herat was a long one, via Pakistan and then on to Italy with the aid of human traffickers in a bid to get to Britain where she had family. Instead they found refuge in Denmark.
“We came to Denmark in 2000 when I was 10 or 11 years old, and we used to be in this camp, and just beside this camp there was these amazing football fields,” Nadim told AFP.
“Every day after school me and other refugee kids used to go and watch these other guys train. One day I asked if I could join in, and the coach was like ‘yeah, of course’,” she explained.
Away from the turmoil of her homeland at that time, her teenage years in Denmark were peaceful and she enjoyed comics, school — and especially sport.
“I feel happy and I feel grateful every day. I am fortunate to be in a situation where I can play football, be the player I want to be and meet new people all the time,” she says.
Nadim, who has embarked on studies to become a surgeon after her football days are over, feels the sport is a wonderful social leveller.
“There were a lot of kids from different areas ... Arabs, Iraqi, Bosnian, Somalian, nobody could speak the language, and no-one spoke English, so the only way we communicated was with the game,” she recalled of her early days in Denmark.
“Everyone was included, nobody would say ‘No’ because you are different ... that is what I still love about the game, everyone can be a part of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Christian or Muslim, it’s a game.”
While women’s equality is relatively advanced in Denmark, Nadim concedes that the situation is far more complicated in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan girls are not supposed to do sports, not supposed to wear shorts,” she says.
“But you can use sports to change points of view ... I have seen this myself.
“When I was younger my Mum would be like don’t play football with the boys because the women, my friends, think that there is something else going on.
“I used to hide myself on the street — we used to play street football — because my Mum was like, if they see you they are going to start talking.
“That was so stupid.”
Nadim went on to become a full Denmark international and played in the European championships final in 2017 where she scored the opening goal but could not prevent her side losing 4-2 to the Netherlands.
However, to her enormous chagrin, Denmark did not qualify for the World Cup, which kicks off in France in June.
“I was so disappointed,” she says.
She is circumspect when asked if she thinks the World Cup is going to be a “turning point” for the growth of women’s football.
“I don’t think there’s one tournament or one point that’s going to change everything,” she said. “I don’t think that’s how it works. It’s going to take time, but we’re on the right path.”
When she hangs up her boots, the woman who was forced to flee conflict herself says she hopes to combine her burgeoning medical career with humanitarian work.
“I think Doctors Without Borders do a great job and I’d love to be there for a couple of years to gain experience, but also be in an area where you probably are the only person who can help these people.”