Pep Guardiola must focus on Real Madrid showdown as UEFA ban looms

Manchester City’s future starts against Real Madrid… the club’s reputation is in limbo but Pep Guardiola must stay focused on last-16 tie with UEFA’s Champions League ban looming

  • Manchester City are preparing for a Champions League clash with Real Madrid 
  • But the club are grappling with the possibility of a two-year European ban
  • They have appealed UEFA’s decision after claims they breached FFP regulations
  • These are uncomfortable times for Pep Guardiola with City’s reputation at stake 
  • Guardiola has an opportunity to bring fresh impetus to City’s season against Real

If this has not been the most straightforward season on Pep Guardiola’s life then perhaps a touch of familiarity is exactly what he needs.

Seated in the press room of the Bernabeu on Tuesday night, the Manchester City coach – fabled of Barcelona, of course – declared himself very happy to be back.

‘It’s one of the great stadiums’ he smiled.

These must be uncomfortable times for Pep Guardiola as Man City fight against their UEFA ban

‘It’s an honour and I will enjoy it. That’s all I can do.’ For Guardiola, there has not been much to enjoy recently. His Premier League castle is about to be sacked by Liverpool while UEFA’s judgement that City have manipulated their way round their Financial Fair Play rules has brought a two-year European ban on to the horizon.

But when it comes to a challenge on the football field, nothing really changes. Real Madrid have always quickened Guardiola’s pulse and in a competition that has vexed him in recent seasons, there is an opportunity for City to bring some fresh impetus and direction to their season.

‘We are playing the kings of the competition,’ added Guardiola.

Raheem Sterling is fit to face Madrid and was complimentary about their upcoming opponents

The City squad are trying to keep their focus on the pitch with the club’s reputation in limbo

‘We know the challenge we have to face. Let’s see if we can find our true levels and play the match.’ Sitting in front a Madrid media that has been hostile to him for so many years, Guardiola was not pressed particularly rigorously about City’s recent issues with the European rules. David Silva – seated to his right – reassured the room the playing staff had not given it too much thought.

‘It’s not on us,’ said Silva.

But what is at stake over the coming weeks – as City wait to have their appeal heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – is the club’s reputation. That – as much as anything – is what this issue is fundamentally about.

Guardiola was happy to talk about that here, saying for the first time that the club have shown him the evidence that they claim shows that they are clean.

‘We were under suspicion for a long time and we have the right to appeal,’ he added.

‘I trust the people in my club. They have explained the reasons and they showed me the arguments and the proof.

Guardiola says his City side are taking on the ‘kings of the Champions League’ in Real Madrid

How Real Madrid and Man City could line up at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night

‘We are optimistic that finally if we deserve to be in the Champions League, we can do it next season.

‘If finally it doesn’t happen we have to accept and move forward. We are going to see what happens with CAS. It is not extra motivation for us. These players will have a lot of chances in this competition in the future.

‘Unless you die you know there’ll always be another opportunity.

‘The desire to play and win always has to be there. Without that it’s impossible. More than that it’s another game – that’s all.’ A control freak like all great managers, these must be uncomfortable times for Guardiola. His future – in Europe at least – is very much out his hands and he cannot control that.

On the field he confirmed that Raheem Sterling is fit and it will be interesting to see if his star forward plays. Sterling was photographed in the Spanish media last week with a Real shirt on one shoulder and a City one on the other. In the accompanying article, he said some very nice things about his opponents. It seemed a strange thing to do for a player who stresses his commitment to his current club.

‘He is fit,’ said Guardiola.

‘His natural physical condition and ability to recover is amazing. He thought he could play against West Ham and then against Leicester. The medic said one month and he wanted to play after 15 days.’ 

The Spaniard said he trusts people at the club in their ongoing dispute with UEFA on FFP rules

A journey deep in to this competition would be a filip for City and indeed for English football. City have given us much to admire over the last few years and it would be good to reminded of that.

Guardiola’s legacy in the game is already secure, given his work at the three clubs he has coached at even he admitted that he can still find improvement in his own work.

Told that former Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller had suggested Guardiola was too obsessed with the opposition while at the German club, he responded by saying: ‘When an ex player makes that statement it’s not criticism, it’s information for me.

‘But I have an obligation to known as much as possible about my opponent.

‘I haven’t faced Madrid for five years. Thomas and the others cannot say I don’t prepare to win games. As a player I think if I know more about the opponent, it made me confident to know what I have to face.

‘If Thomas felt that [it was too much] it’s good information. Maybe it’s my mistake.’ It is unlikely City will be under-prepared this evening. City’s future – whatever it may be – starts here.

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