Pep Guardiola has lost a few battles to Manchester United with home defeats to teams led by Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but Manchester City still seem to be winning the war.
The reigning champions are expected to dominate today’s Manchester derby and consolidate their pursuit of a third Premier League title in a row.
Guardiola has not finished under United since his arrival in 2016 and the gap between the clubs grew to a staggering 35 points last season, leading to the appointment of Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford.
Pep Guardiola has insisted there will be ‘zero problems’ if he leaves Manchester City
The big question is whether City’s success can go beyond Guardiola whose contract expires at the end of this season with no clear indication of his longer-term future.
United collapsed after their series trophy winner Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, but Guardiola fears City will face a repeat if he leaves.
While United’s managers who followed Ferguson had to deal with a new and inexperienced CEO Ed Woodward and a debt-based ownership model, City seems to have a well-oiled machine behind the scenes.
Money is clearly not an issue at the top, as the Abu Dhabi group takes control of the club in 2008 and below that, the leading managers, Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, always have a long-term view.
The Spanish manager is convinced that City’s board ‘knows the strategy’ he has built at the club
They are credited with luring the hottest feature of the summer transfer window, goal-a-game striker Erling Haaland, to The Etihad, when every club in Europe wanted him.
When asked about his views on a post-Pep Manchester City, the 51-year-old couldn’t have been more affirmative.
“There will be zero problems. I am 100 percent convinced of that. The club knows exactly what the goal and the next step is,” said Guardiola.
“They know the strategy. They know what to do now, after the World Cup, next season and then the following seasons.
“If a club is dependent on one person, they have problems because the club is not solid. It’s unstable. The foundation of the club is why the team is solid.
“If the club just depends on Pep, then the club is not doing very well during this period. If the club only depends on one player – like the striker who scores the goals – then that is not a good team.”
The 51-year-old coach has led Man City to four Premier League titles since his arrival in 2016
Guardiola’s views will bring tears to the eyes of United fans who have seen the deterioration at their club since 2013, although ten Hag has made a promising start by pushing the reset button after nine years of pain.
While Ferguson dominated every part of Old Trafford when he was supreme for 26 years, leaving a huge vacuum when he left, Guardiola insists it’s different at his club.
“I never buy the players. I never sell the players. It’s not my money. It’s the club,” he argues.
“The club are the most important words and every decision we make is because we think about the club and the day after tomorrow, and for the years to come and the future.
“The club knows that very well. They know the type of players and the way we want to play. In football, as in all sports such as tennis, such as golf, you lose more than you win.
“What’s important is that you believe that the way you do things will get you the trophies and the titles. The club knows exactly what to do.’
The reigning Premier League champions train for Sunday’s Manchester derby
Without stability at the top, the United managers who followed Ferguson struggled; David Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho, Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick. They haven’t won a single trophy in over five years – their longest barren run since the 1970s.
In a way, Guardiola feels that ten Hag – who once worked as part of his staff at Bayern Munich – joined the club at the right time with reduced expectations.
“Imagine taking over at United after they’ve won three Champions Leagues or three Premier Leagues in a row. That would be more difficult, the bridge is probably lower now because they did not qualify for the Champions League last season,” said the Catalan.
“Ultimately, the hierarchy in clubs is so important. How much do they believe in the manager and how much time do they spend on it.
“Results are important, but the clubs also need to look at how he trains, how he behaves, how he solves problems, how he deals with the media.
“The club has to trust what he is doing and give it time. Football, like so many things in life, needs time to be solid. If you change manager and player a lot, it gets harder.
Manchester United collapsed after legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013
“Look at all the managers who have been with United since Sir Alex. Come on, are you going to say they’re not all good managers? Not really. If Erik works now – good for them.’
‘I have a lot of admiration for Erik. We know a little bit about each other because we were in Munich for a year.
‘I don’t know more than that. We don’t have a close relationship, but what he has done is absolutely incredible work in the Netherlands.
“If United trust him and let him build a team by giving him years and years, that’s welcome. If you don’t win, you have a problem.’
Ten Hag showed courage to make changes, dropping Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Cristiano Ronaldo and Fred after humiliating defeats to Brighton and Brentford. United have since vastly improved by beating Liverpool and Arsenal, but this will be their biggest test.
The Man City boss said: “There will be zero problems. I am 100 percent convinced of that.”
Likewise, they will be a step up in the league for City who have had a relatively easy playing list thus far, allowing Haaland to score 14 goals for his new club already.
Players from all over the world will be featured in The Etihad, but the match is still of extra interest to the fans and to players who grew up locally, such as Phil Foden, who has supported City throughout his life.
“It’s nice that he is a City fan and important for the club, but that doesn’t mean he will play well or badly in the derby,” said Guardiola. “He has to focus on what he has to do on the field.”