Pep Guardiola has said for the first time that if Manchester City do not win the Champions League under him his highly successful tenure will “not be complete.”
Since becoming City manager in the summer of 2016 Guardiola had won five Premier League titles, four League Cups and the FA Cup. But he is yet to lead the club to the Champions League title and has previously always played down the importance of doing so.
Guardiola signed a one-year contract extension last month with an option to extend it until 2025 and he was asked if winning Europe’s most important club competition had been a motivating factor in that decision.
“It’s not the only one but I admit it’s the trophy we want and my period here will not be complete if we don’t win it,” he said. But that’s not the only reason [I signed]. I will do everything in the time we have together to win it but I’d say the same before [signing]. It’s the trophy we don’t have and we’ll try to do it. I have the feeling they are [City] will get it sooner or later. We’ve tried in the past, even in the first season even though we went out in the last 16. So we will try with all our strength.”
City are back in action on Thursday night for the first time since the break in domestic football for the World Cup when they host Liverpool in the Carabao Cup last-16 tie. While five of Liverpool’s squad were in Qatar compared to 16 of City’s with Julián Álvarez yet to return after being a member of Argentina’s triumphant team, Guardiola has no concerns about a tournament hangover.
“I have the feeling that those who were at the World Cup are in better condition than the players who weren’t, the players who didn’t go lack rhythm, the ones who come back have been competing and trained every day,” he said. .
“Players who were not at the World Cup and who play can get the rhythm tomorrow so we have to do it with what we have. Step by step they come back – we have six players back [already] and they are happy they are back, in general they played really well and had an incredible experience.”
While the England players – Kyle Walker, Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips and John Stones – were among those back in training on Wednesday – Guardiola congratulated Álvarez, who ended the tournament with four goals. “We are incredibly happy for him,” he said.
When City lost October’s league game at Liverpool Jurgen Klopp was sent off after berating an assistant referee, while the fixture has a history of hostility. This moved each club to write to fans to call for calm on Thursday. And Guardiola agreed. This means extra emphasis is on the managers to behave properly.
“Definitely,” he said, then joked. “We want to behave well: the players, the managers, the spectators, but sometimes emotion means people can’t behave like a statue. We will always react in that way but with respect to the officials, the rules and the opponent is always there from my point of view. Reactions happen that’s why the referees are there. It’s just a game let’s make people happy, that’s what we try to do.”
The Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus – who left City in the summer for £45m after five years at the Etihad – suffered a knee injury at the World Cup that may rule him out until February. City trail Arsenal by five points and Guardiola was asked if the Brazilian’s enforced absence might offer an advantage.
“I’m so sorry for Gabriel, that’s for sure and I would prefer him to play for Arsenal. He’s an important player for them like he was for us,” he said.
“I want to wish him a speedy recovery. [But at the moment] I don’t think about what we have to do with Arsenal. I start to think about what we have to do to win tomorrow, Leeds [in the league] and the next game. I’m so sorry for him. Not one person in this club would speak badly of him, I wish him all the best.”