Remember, Pep Guardiola said he would leave Man City if he has been lied to
Pep Guardiola could not have been in better spirits when he flew into Abu Dhabi in late November. The domestic season had paused for the World Cup and the Manchester City manager, his side safely into the Champions League knockout stages, well-positioned in pursuit of a fifth Premier League title in six seasons and with new signing Erling Haaland breaking all kinds of scoring records, was enjoying a rare mid-season break with his family.
After taking part in the Pro Am Pep Trophy, a golf event established by his charitable foundation, Guardiola was all smiles in the company of wife Cristina Serra and children Marius and Valentina at the stunning Yas Marina circuit as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen raced to victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
A few days later, City announced that Guardiola had signed a two-year contract extension, tying him to the Etihad Stadium until June 2025, his family’s blessing as influential in the decision as the “unconditional support” of the club’s hierarchy and his excitement about the future.
“I know the next chapter of this club will be amazing for the next decade,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach said. “It happened over the last 10 years - and it will happen in the next 10 years because this club is so stable."
Fast forward 11 weeks and Guardiola could be forgiven for thinking that early winter sojourn in the sun was a lifetime ago.
As if the City manager did not look preoccupied enough with his team’s malaise and deteriorating results, the bombshell news that the champions have been charged by the Premier League with 115 alleged breaches of financial regulations was a huge off-field distraction he really could have done without, hours after a damaging 1-0 defeat at Tottenham.
It has been a bruising few weeks on the pitch, defeats to Manchester United and Spurs arguably not as concerning as the disconnect between midfield and attack that has left Guardiola admitting “we are not in a position to think about being champions."
Now he must find the energy to contend with another litany of questions about City’s financial practices and whether their success warrants an asterisk next to it - at precisely the time he has been striving to summon a collective refocusing at a club he worries has fallen into a comfort zone.
Guardiola has not been afraid to use the thorny issue of City’s finances as a means of creating a siege mentality in the past and perhaps he will adopt a similarly pugnacious stance again. He may look agitated and rather worn out at the moment and facing a battle to motivate players he has pushed to great heights over the past seven years but those close to him still sense a defiance on this particular matter.
Guardiola needed no encouragement to unburden himself of years of pent-up frustration in the wake of the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturning City’s two-year European ban from Uefa in July 2020, when he accused rivals of waging a “whispering” campaign against “my club”.
And it was clear only a few days ago, when Guardiola was still unaware of what was just around the corner, that he has not forgotten how nine Premier League clubs wrote to Cas asking them to dismiss any request by City to lift the Uefa ban while they appealed.
Guardiola once said: 'If you lie to me, the day after I am not here'
That feels like a wound that has yet to heal for Guardiola, who also questioned last Friday what the reaction would have been had his club embarked on the sort of spending spree that has seen Chelsea lavish over £550 million on players in eight months.
Well, City are very much back in the eye of the storm now, with Premier League rivals doubtless quietly hoping the champions have the book thrown at them, and maybe it will be handy for their manager and players to have something to get angry about, at least in the shorter-term.
It was in May last year that Guardiola said he would quit City immediately if he felt the club’s hierarchy ever lied to him. “Why did I defend the club and the people?” he said. “It’s because I work with them. When they are accused of something I ask them, ‘Tell me about that.’
“They explain and I believe them. I said to them: ‘If you lie to me, the day after I am not here. I will be out and I will not be your friend any more. I put my faith in you because I believe you 100 per cent from day one and I defend the club because of that’.”
His stomach for another such fight is about to be tested.