The pre-game antics and comments of managers like Jose Mourinho and then Manchester United gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson brought to the fore the use of mind games by managers before matches to unsettle opposing teams. Pep Guardiola has got Manchester City playing a beautiful brand off football that saw the side dominate England last season. Although the team came up short in the Champions League as it was embarrassingly ousted by Liverpool at the quarter final stage, many believed it was just a temporary setback.
The team was tipped as one of the favorites to lift the trophy this season. So far, the journey has been relatively smooth. At a time when there have been upsets in the competition already, City romped to a 10-2 aggregate win over German side Schalke. That highlighted the ruthlessness that now abounds in the team. The result is not surprising as the German side has been struggling this season. Yet, when a team beats another that made it into the Round of 16 of a competition by a 7-0 margin, praise must be given where it is due.
But the Manchester City manager has consistently downplayed his team’s chances in the competition. His comments have consistently made Man City look like the underdog in the competition. In fact, going by the manager’s assertions, City will not win the competition anytime soon. He’s gone from labeling the club as ‘not ready’ to more recently calling the team Champions League ‘teenagers’.
Of course, the Catalan manager’s comments come as a result of the Cityzens’ history in the competition. City has not surpassed the semi-final stage so far. But that by no means makes the club a ‘teenager’.
Manchester United won first trophy on the continent: European Champions Club’s Cup in 1967/68
Man City won first trophy on the continent: UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1969/70
So why should one club be branded as a teenager just because it has won less trophies than the others when they both have the same long history?
In the end, the manager may just be creating a safe landing for himself should his side fail to progress to the latter stages, again. But there is really no guarantee any of the remaining teams will make it to the semi-final or final. So City’s failure cannot be explained away as a result of being teenagers. Roma knocked out experienced Barcelona last season.
Holders and most successful side in the competition Real were knocked out by Ajax this time around as Bayern Munich collapsed against Liverpool. With all the experience possessed by the serial German champions, they could not make it through.
Losing to Liverpool on the day did not mean the English side won because of better experience. Bayern started winning the competition before Liverpool. In fact FC Hollywood won it thrice before Liverpool tasted success for the first time. The club’s manager, Niko Kovac, simply got his tactics wrong on the night. Some of his key players highlighted that in their post-match interview.
When Inter Milan won for the first time back in 1964, Real Madrid had already won five times. The Italian side must have believed it was ready for the big time. A comfortable 3-1 victory in the final secured the trophy for the very first time. And by the time Celtic faced Inter in the 1967 final, the Nerazzurri had won it twice already. But the Scottish side triumphed. Manchester United beat the same Celtic the next year to win for the first time as well. Chelsea beat vastly experienced Bayern to win for the first time in 2012.
I dug up a bit of history to prove a point; while experience is always valuable, inexperience never stopped any winner from triumphing. Different teams have their time. Telling your players they’re not ready and this is not their time is not the best way to motivate them. If anything, it will actually discourage them. Man City is one of the best teams in the world at the moment. Placed side-by-side, the Sky Blues can beat any team on their day. Be it Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United or Liverpool.
So the manger should spare us the humble pie and tell these players what they really need to hear; that they can do it and this is their time. After the numerous investments and the steady progress achieved by the club, nobody could be more ready to win the Champions League than Manchester City.