Defeats don’t come harder than the one suffered by Manchester City in Madrid on Wednesday night. Two goals ahead before the last minute but still eliminated from the Champions League. What could Pep Guardiola say?
Very little, he admits. It’s Friday afternoon. He didn’t watch the game back. “Of course, we can analyze”, he says Sky Sports. “But in this type of game there are a lot of emotions involved and now I prefer to focus on Newcastle.”
It’s the next Premier League game on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League. “The most important thing.” The first of City’s last four games. Such is Liverpool’s form, it’s likely they will have to win them all if they are to retain the Premier League title. This is the only trophy left now.
Back from Madrid, the players were given a day off. This is not the case for Guardiola. He is back on the training ground, speaking to the media. There’s no sense of a grieving man, he even shares a joke or two. He is preparing for Newcastle.
There is a misconception about Guardiola. Those distant looks on the bench, the maniacal gestures on the touchline. A man who cares so deeply, invests so much, must surely be broken in defeat. It’s not as he sees it. It is the setbacks that forge it.
“What is life? Life is not always good times,” he explains.
“In sport, in particular, there are more bad times than good times.” And then comes a startling admission. “I’m so comfortable dealing with those kinds of situations. Sometimes I’m more comfortable in that than when I’m dealing with success.”
There are those he leans on in such times.
Manel Estiarte, the former Spanish Olympic water polo champion, is a constant. His presence in the technical staff has nothing to do with football and everything to do with psychology. He helps with the welfare of the players, but that’s not the main purpose of his role at City.
“Manel takes care of me, that’s enough for him,” jokes Guardiola.
“He’s been a friend of mine for many, many years. For many, many years. He was the best athlete in his sport. He has an incredible sense of what’s going on in the team. Not on tactics, but on what is happening in the team, what we need, what we are looking for.
“It helps me a lot, especially in bad times. We share our sadness. Our grief is always together. And, of course, in good times too. He has a role, an important role in the club. That’s an incredible person for my family. For the club too.”
Estiarte must have earned his money this week. “Losses are always full of emotions,” Guardiola continues. “With the successes, you are mixed. Sometimes you could do better. The defeats, you can feel it. And you have to feel it so that it gets better when the good times come.”
He insists in a press conference on the fact that nothing was said to the players afterwards, which he reaffirms here. “After the game, no words can control or manage the pain you feel with this result. You have to feel this pain.”
But speaking from a small room in City’s media room, Guardiola acknowledges the noise that surrounded the result. The words were, in fact, spoken. “Today everyone is talking. That’s why I told the players: ‘Don’t read a lot, get away from it and focus on yourself.’
There was criticism of Jack Grealish, the £100million signing who twice came close to confirming City’s place in the final before chaos engulfed his side. Guardiola dismisses that out of hand. “Jack was brilliant when he arrived and was unlucky with situations.”
There were criticisms of it too, of course. This latest defeat means that by the time of next year’s Champions League final, it will be a dozen years since he won European club football’s biggest prize. But he makes a passionate defense of his record.
“Situations come as they come. Respect it. What you have to do is just put on the table who we are and what we did in those two games. What we did in the Premier League, what what we did in the Champions League.
“Last season we lost the Champions League. It was 13 games. We won 11, drew one and lost one. If we lost the Champions League, was it a bad Champions League season? Absolutely not. This season we were in the Champions League semi-final again.
“We want to win the Champions League, of course. But when they called me, they didn’t tell me that we have to win the Champions League. Not even the Premier League.
“They said they wanted to be competitors in all competitions until the end, to be a team that for our fans is fun to watch and win as many games as possible in all competitions. That’s why they knocked on my door to come And we did.
“There is no doubt, in all competitions, we have done it. The people who play against us know that, they are good. They run, they fight and they take their opponent to the limit.
“That’s when you become a strong club. A club you can rely on. For the sponsors, the fans, the people who want to follow us when they turn on the TV and want to watch Man City. The honesty of these players and this team has been remarkable for many years.”
In what some will see as an off-brand view, Guardiola describes the performance in Madrid as one of his proudest moments. “The way we compete, the way we carry ourselves.” But perhaps the biggest test will come this weekend and the next two.
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe says he doesn’t know how City’s defeat will affect them psychologically. Guardiola can’t see the future either. But he knows his players. “I know we’re going to play as we are, we’re going to move on,” he said.
“There are only two weeks left before the end of the season and we have four games ahead of us, three in a short time. We are facing the most important week of the season in the Premier League.
“We don’t have the margin.
“The first is Newcastle and we are going there.”