Pep Guardiola is keenly anticipating his Premier League bow when Manchester City face Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday but does not feel this assignment is the toughest of his career.
Having inherited a team featuring the prodigious talents of Lionel Messi among others at Barcelona in 2008 and a treble-winning Bayern Munich in 2013, the common consensus has been that taking up the reins of a City side that limped to fourth place in England’s top flight last term would be the sternest challenge of Guardiola’s coaching mettle to date.
But the 45-year-old maintains that, following a decorated playing career at the Camp Nou, stepping up from a solitary season in charge of Barcelona B to take on a team in transition represented a unique set of pressures he will not face again in football.
“The hardest test is always the first one because without the first one you don’t arrive to the second one,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“I was promoted to coach of Barcelona first team because I was successful in the previous experience with the second team, so [City] is not the hardest one.
“Every one is special. To have success at home is not easy. I moved to Germany and learned German to communicate with the players and the media. In Germany it was always a big challenge.
“Of course it is special for me in the Premier League. I know I will be judged in terms of results but for me I am a lucky guy to be here.”
An abandoned friendly against rivals Manchester United in China and the staggered return of his Euro 2016 stars have combined to complicate Guardiola’s first pre-season at the City Football Academy.
The coach accepts it will take time for City’s squad to fully absorb his tactical theories but he will still accept nothing less than total passion and commitment versus Sunderland, who will be helmed by ex-Everton and Manchester United manager David Moyes for the first time this weekend.
“To create something, with ideas to attack, we need time. But to play with soul, with soul and something inside we don’t need time,” Guardiola explained.
“Tomorrow we don’t know if everyone is going to play good or if we will get the result but I will not accept not playing with soul. We can do that from the first day and that is exactly what I am looking for from my team and my players. I hope our supporters at the Etihad can see that.”
Guardiola reported a pleasant encounter with Khaldoon Al Mubarak after the City chairman observed training on Friday, but joked there was a good reason for the cordiality.
“Still I never lose an official game, so that is why the relationship is good,” he said.
“He met the new players – [Oleksandr] Zinchenko, John Stones and Nolito. We spoke about football.
“I am grateful, he is so polite when we talk about football, what we are looking for. The three of four times we spoke together were always good.”