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rivals wised up to Manchester City
Is Pep Guardiola a bald fraud? Before Manchester City’s three consecutive defeats in the last eight days, this seemed to be one of the more urgent questions
of the modern sporting age.
It looked a simple enough dichotomy. Is the man who gave us the most compelling elite club team and the finished‑article Lionel Messi, a high‑class manager whose teams retain a skein of brittleness against the best opponents? Or is he, in fact, a fraud. And not just a fraud but a bald fraud. A bald foreign fraud, the worst kind of fraud there is.
Things have moved on in the past few days, glossed by the elimination from the Champions League on Tuesday at the hands of a fine, compact, ice‑cold Liverpool team. The public appear to have spoken. An internet search for the phrases “bald fraud” and “Pep Guardiola” over the past seven days produces a decisive, clinching 4,700 matches, even if many of those relate to an article by the otherwise excellent journalist Ken Early openly denying – imagine! – that Guardiola is a bald fraud.
Before the first-leg defeat by Liverpool, these same search numbers were down in the one‑thousands. And frankly the data doesn’t lie. The question is no longer, whether Guardiola is a bald fraud. It is instead: how long has he been a bald fraud? And how was European football, with all its misleading facts and data and elements of obvious beauty so easily tricked out of its jewels, its virtue and its timeshare in Alicante by this handsome egg-headed swindler?
There is of course another point of view. Stepping away from the tribal blurts of received footballing opinion, it is possible the bald fraud narrative is an oversimplification. Football has always loved its pig‑headed certainties, its binary shades, although it is a relatively new idea that successful, confident, (foreign) people are no longer allowed just to lose but must instead be “found out”, exposed, stripped bare of their fanciness.
The main point here is that
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sticking to this narrative also misses the best bits of City’s recent
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struggles. Not to mention the deeper fascination of how Guardiola, who is actually pretty good at coaching football teams, might adapt to an effective, considered
response to his team’s
frictionless domination of the first three-quarters of the season.
The first point is obvious enough. Other football managers are also allowed to be clever, adaptive, resourceful people at the top of their profession. If Jürgen Klopp and José Mourinho have found a way to interfere with the fine‑point machinery of Guardiola’s team, this does not naturally mean his life’s work is meaningless, his trophies the tarnished baubles of a cosseted princeling.
City fans have already been quick to point to bad luck (Leroy Sané’s disallowed goal at the Etihad
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Stadium) and to the fact anyone can lose in knockout football as evidence that nothing has really changed. The truth, as ever, is somewhere in between. Something different has clearly been
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happening in the past three games and in the last 10, five of which have been lost.
The basic statistics from those three defeats make for interesting reading. City dominated every metric, as is so often the case. In defeat to Liverpool (twice) and Manchester United they had more corners (23 to six combined) more shots (51 to 19) and – of course – more possession of the ball. Across those 270 losing minutes City made a staggering 1,778 accurate passes to their opponents’ 799, an average of three and a half more accurate passes every minute of every game.
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