Pep, Pep, Pep.... where did it all go wrong? This time last year they couldn’t wait to announce your coming - the new Manchester Messiah. Shove old man Pellegrini out the door having first torpedoed his season, then sit back and wait for the great things to happen. The brave new world, the new Barcelona.
And it started off well – ‘brave decision about Joe Hart’, ‘he’s his own man and knows what he wants’, ‘we’ve not seen his like in this country before’ and ‘oooh’. Ten games - ten wins as expected - and then the wheels started coming off.
And if I was a City supporter I’d be fuming right about now, absolutely incandescent – because he’s given up! Half way through the season and he’s admitted the title race is over for them and he’s talking about an inquest at the end of the season to find out what went wrong!
It’s true he’s ten points behind Chelsea, but there are still seventeen games to play – anything could happen. Hell, we’ve still got another ten games to get through before we kick in – what’s the matter with the guy?
They say that he inherited an ‘ageing squad’ - well, given that he had a six month lead-in to last summer's transfer window, he could have done something about it. In case it’d slipped by unnoticed we seem to be in one now, and he’s manager of one of the wealthiest clubs in the world – what’s the problem?
I think two things have gone wrong. Firstly, he didn't anticipate the style of the Premier League. The constant pressure, the quality of teams, the physicality, competitiveness and speed, which for a manager with a reputation for meticulous planning is unforgivable.
Secondly, we're half way through the season and he hasn’t adapted to the new conditions and at times, has looked out of his depth. Most of his ‘ageing’ team are in their third or fourth year in the top flight and would be a good bet for a top four place if they were just sent out to play without him interfering. He’s actually making them worse by trying to play a style that isn’t suited to the conditions.
Added to that, he’s made some shocking decisions, starting with getting rid of Hart, which he must regret now. His replacement Claudio Bravo had four shots to save on Sunday and let them all in. He’s let in 14 of the last 22 – that’s not goalkeeping, that’s a poor return for a ball boy.
And, he keeps coming out with the most extraordinary comments. The problem is with the defence – it’s explained in detail for morons like me on TV every Saturday night. But Guardiola’s not sure –
Believe me, I would like to know why it keeps happening.
I think he thought it was going to be easy, like Spain, where he inherited a fully developed Barcelona, or Germany with Bayern. Here, he inherited a team capable of winning the Premier League and it turned out that he was the weakest link (ok, apart from the goalkeeper).
He was supposed to be smarter than Klopp, more sophisticated than Mourinho. This season, unless he pulls something out of the bag, it’ll be the first and biggest blemish of his career.
Champions League it is then.
But it’s going to be better next season – City will probably buy Lionel Messi for £100 million, they’ll make him the most expensive player in the world, give him his own emoji and he’ll play everyone off the park. Right up until Christmas when it gets cold and dark, he doesn’t get a break and an offer comes in from China. Then they’re back to square one.
Maybe the Premier League is just too tough for some people, too different to the game as it's played elsewhere. We’re continually told that it’s the strongest league in the world, where all the players want to play and the one everyone wants to watch. And yet when FIFA announced their 2016 Team of the Year last month, it didn’t contain one player from the Premier League. Not just no English players, no player who plays in the Premier at all - although it did include a pre-emoji Pogba when he was at Juventus.
And yet Claudio Ranieri was crowned ‘coach of the year’ and there was a bizarre joint fan award for the supporters of Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool. Easy to support a team that’s winning, that’s all I’ll say.
Elsewhere, FIFA are going to expand the teams in a the World Cup final up to 48 from 32. Postulated as a move to enable more teams to enjoy the experience of the finals, it will, coincidentally, result in over £500 million more profit for FIFA, but that was definitely not a reason for going ahead with it.
We know that because Gianni Infantino has released details of his new pay deal as proof of the emerging ‘anti-greed culture’ at FIFA. Infantino said his modest contract – £1.15m basic plus bonuses, car, house, £1,542-a-month expenses and funding for one-off costs such as £1,100 for a tuxedo and £660 on flowers – “reflects more than any word can reflect my strong will to end recent behaviour”.
That’s alright then.
The sweet FA Cup – does anyone really care about it any more? Obviously doesn’t feature too highly on Pep’s radar, but it’s like most things in football, if you’re winning it’s fantastic. Not that long ago we got to the last eight and played Everton home and away and the atmosphere was brilliant – right up to the point when David Moyes’ team did the job on us.
But we’ll never forget 1973, nor for some of us in 67-68 when Ryhope Colliery Welfare got to the first round and had their result read out on Grandstand. Some of my mates' Dads played for Ryhope that day - now that’s a good Cup memory.
And more Ryhope memorabilia, with talk of Wayne Rooney overtaking Bobby Charlton's goal-scoring record, it reminded me of the time we all bunked out of school one lunchtime to see Charlton open the Villa pop factory on Tunstall Bank - hit a ball straight as a cannonball through the ribbon, he did. Probably got £20 for it. Still waiting for his emoji.
Elsewhere we learnt this week that Alexis Sanchez has the names of his dogs embroidered on his boots. I’m not sure why we need to know that but it might come in handy. And Marco Silva, the new Hull manager doesn’t feel the cold. Dressed in a light suit with the shirt open to the waist to stand on a touchline in Humberside in January, he could be the real deal. I for one shall watch his progress with interest.