Pep tries a Cruyff turn! Guardiola copies Dutch master who coached him at Barcelona to take the pressure off his Man City side… as he tells his team to ‘go out and enjoy it’ against PSG in Champions League semi-final
- Pep Guardiola has attempted to take the pressure off his Manchester City side
- The manager quoted his former boss Johan Cruyff in his press conference
- City face PSG in the semi-finals of the Champions League on Wednesday night
- City were knocked out of the competition by Lyon in the quarter-final last season
On the front of Johan Cruyff’s autobiography is a quote from Pep Guardiola.
‘I knew nothing about football before knowing Cruyff,’ says the Manchester City manager.
Guardiola won his first European Cup as a member of Cruyff’s Barcelona team who beat Sampdoria at Wembley in 1992. It was the Spanish club’s first triumph in the competition too. And as he prepared City to take a major step towards their first final on Wednesday evening, Guardiola briefly looked backwards rather than forwards.
Pep Guardiola won his first European Cup as a member of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona team
The Manchester City boss looked to emulate Cruyff by taking the pressure off his team
‘Cruyff’s mythical sentence, just one minute before we went to Wembley, was to go out and enjoy it,’ said Guardiola.
‘I learn from Cruyff. When you arrive at these stages there is only one thing you can do. Enjoy the game. Enjoy the responsibility and the pressure. Enjoy the fact that you have not lived more of these situations.
‘That is elite. Top players enjoy this situation because they take the responsibility. That’s why the greatest players win this competition and the greatest clubs win this competition because they play it as a friendly game. That’s what I want to see in my team.’
This was very much the tone of Guardiola’s address to the media before his team left Manchester for France on Tuesday and it was hard not to suspect it was deliberate.
Such was the numbing disappointment felt after last year’s quarter-final exit at the hands of Lyon, such have been Guardiola’s frustrations in trying to once again win a competition he once threatened to make his own, that he may just have felt it was time to guide the narrative in a different direction.
After all, desperation has never really worked as a motivational tool.
City suffered heartbreak in the quarter-finals of the competition against Lyon last season
PSG will provide plenty of attacking threat with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar leading the line
‘This is a dream and we are happy to live it,’ he said. ‘It is something new. We are incredibly happy. We just need to be ourselves.’
This is not technically new to City. They have played and lost one semi-final before, to Real Madrid under Manuel Pellegrini. But to this group of players it is uncharted territory. Their victory against a dangerous Borussia Dortmund team two weeks ago will not harm confidence. City were very good in Germany that night.
Equally, this will be a different challenge. Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG team do not yet wholly carry his stamp. They can be devastating going forward and had to be in order to get rid of champions Bayern Munich in the quarter-final and Barcelona the round before that.
Equally, the French champions can be vulnerable at the back. Barcelona could have scored five in Paris when trying to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit and Bayern had their moments too.
So as much as it was interesting to hear Guardiola suggest that it was impossible to prepare to face a unique talent in Neymar, it is also the case that his attacking players will walk on to the field at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night knowing that they will find spaces in which to play.
‘Like all the managers, we want to create a lot and concede few but sometimes it is not possible,’ added Guardiola.
‘We know we are going to suffer in both games and they are going to have chances, all we can do is try to create chances too.
Guardiola’s side produced an impressive performance to get past Borussia Dortmund
‘I know the weapons they have up front. Everyone who loves football knows the quality they have so we are not going to deny that. But at the same time, we are in the semi-finals of the Champions League — what do you expect?’
There is no reason at all why City cannot begin this tie well on Wednesday night. If they are desperate to win this competition deep down then PSG are too. Neymar said as much on about three occasions on Tuesday.
The English team’s recent schedule has been heavy. In the last two weeks City have played two Premier League games, the second leg of their tie at Dortmund, an FA Cup semi-final and a League Cup final.
That is the kind of schedule that either exhausts players or exhilarates them.
When Manchester United won the Treble in 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson looked back and suggested the intensity of battles in league and cup with Arsenal actually prepared his players for what was to come in the Champions League final.
Guardiola must hope his own players feed off the adrenaline of possibility equally well. The alternative is not palatable.
As always in sport, a balance must be found. Between nervousness and excitement. Between hope and fear. Between confidence and complacency.
Guardiola at times on Tuesday sounded a little like a man about to go on his holidays. At one stage he laughed and suggested his team were not all that good at defending. If it was really true it wouldn’t be funny.
Meanwhile, Riyad Mahrez, the City forward, was candid when he described last season’s Lyon defeat as the biggest disappointment of his career.
‘That motivation has helped us a lot,’ he said and it was easy to believe it.
Beneath all the talk, familiar truths remain. This is another opportunity for City to open the door in Europe. Soon enough they simply must push on through.
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