Pep Guardiola showed virtually no signs of nerves heading into Manchester City’s Champions League final showdown with Chelsea in Porto, serenely declaring himself to be “the happiest man in the world”.
Guardiola’s news conference on the eve of this weekend’s showpiece at Estadio do Dragao also marked the 10-year anniversary of his Barcelona side beating Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley to be crowned European champions.
That was the last of two coaching triumphs for the 50-year-old in the competition he adores, as he went on to suffer three consecutive semi-final losses in charge of Bayern Munich, before failing to guide City beyond the quarter-finals until a superb run this season, when they navigated Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain while scoring four times in each tie.
“Good memories, but it’s a long time ago,” Guardiola said, reflecting on that defining triumph in London. “It’s nice to remember what we lived through, the feelings we had before and after. In that final we expressed what we’d worked four years for.”
A year later, Guardiola left Barcelona and the club’s infamously tempestuous internal politics for a year on sabbatical, putting recent reports of club president Joan Laporta’s desire to bring his old coach back to Camp Nou in reasonable context.
The contrast in his relationship with the board at City, including former Barca executives Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, does much to explain his satisfaction in a post where he committed to a two-year extension last November before securing a third Premier League title in four years.
“I have friends above me, the players have the feeling I’m the manager as I’ve been supported by chairman, CEO and sporting director,” he said.
“I feel comfortable with my backroom staff, I have everything. I cannot ask for more to do my job.
“I’m the happiest man in the world to be here [in the final]. It’s an honour and privilege.”
Ready, boss! pic.twitter.com/m8iyWJY9n4
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 28, 2021
Guardiola’s more relaxed demeanour has not escaped the attention of his players, with Kevin De Bruyne noting a drop in intensity was necessitated by this season’s more condensed schedule – a switch that paid dividends as City romped to the Premier League title after a slow start.
“I guess the whole season we have done less technical training, less meetings,” he said. “I think it would come from a point where we had so many games after each other and it became maybe too much for the team and himself.
“He gave us a little more breathing space I would say and, in the end, maybe he saw it was working and the team were responding well to it.”
As such, one of Guardiola’s more outlandish selections feels unlikely in Porto, even considering his relish of a tactical battle with Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel, who he holds in high regard.
Throughout the knockout stages, City have played for the majority of the time without a recognised striker, their threat coming form the combined creative midfield talents of De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez.
“I know exactly the way we want to play, with who we are going to play,” Guardiola added. “I’m not going to bother [the players] much
“The guys who will be anxious and nervous, I want to tell them it’s normal. The guys who are more relaxed, it’s good as well.”
As City try to win the one major honour that has eluded them during the Guardiola era, there seems little doubt to which of those categories their manager belongs.
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