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25 Jun 2018

Manchester City: Guardiola needs to learn the lesson of history

Manchester City: Guardiola needs to learn the lesson of
history

Things might be rosy right now but Pep Guardiola would do well to avoid City's perennial transfer problems.

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Lessons from the past

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A failure to build

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A litany of disappointment

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The icing on the cake

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Same old, same old

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No end to the disappointment

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Dead man walking

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A stronger position

(Photo credit: Thomas Rodenbücher)

Manchester City have never been in such a strong position heading into the new season. But, while everybody is distracted by the World Cup in Russia, there is a potential stumbling block to Pep Guardiola defending the title he so magnificently won last term.

In theory, City don't need an overhaul - they battered the Premier League left, right and centre, scoring 106 goals (the most ever), conceding just 27 (the fewest in the league) and bagging 100 points (the first time any team has hit triple figures).

With records also broken on consecutive wins, away wins and the points gap to second place, there has never been a more comprehensively better team across the course of a season than City were last time out. 

That level of domination should leave little need to gather reinforcements. But while Liverpool and Manchester United, perhaps the two teams likeliest to close the gap on Guardiola's champions, are out strengthening, City have been running into brick walls, struggling to get deals for Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez and Napoli's Jorginho over the line. 

Lessons from the past

Whatever the outcome of this transfer window, whether the club can get those deals done, they should learn a lesson from their recent history of poor title defences.

City have won the top flight five times. They're yet to defend it successfully, though they've not had the opportunity to on their most recent. 

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard 

Of the four that haven't gone to plan, one, Roberto Mancini's collapse in 2012-13, was regarded as one of the worst of the Premier League era - until both Chelsea and Leicester buckled under pressure and had disastrous finishes in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 

The worst of the records, though, is definitely the fact that the club are the only team to be relegated while reigning champions back in the 1930s.

A failure to build

The two modern failures to defend the title can partly be blamed on how well the club did in the summer transfer window. 

Things were not all well behind the scenes in the months that followed Sergio Aguero's incredible title-winning strike in the 3-2 win over QPR in 2012. 

With a team that had almost bottled winning the league twice, once when falling eight points behind rivals Manchester United with six games left and once with only 45 minutes of the season left to play, it was clear changes needed to be made and the side freshened up.

REUTERS/Albert Gea 

The club's statement unveiling Guardiola as boss in February 2016 even admitted that they had flirted with the idea of changing their manager that early. 

He may have replaced Manuel Pellegrini, but the club's announcement contained the phrase "these negotiations were a re-commencement of discussions that were curtailed in 2012" - which means they were in talks with the Catalan while Mancini was in charge. 

That would most likely have been when it looked like the Italian wouldn't win the league in April but, equally, it shows that he perhaps didn't have their full backing.

A litany of disappointment

City's first signing that summer was Jack Rodwell, £12 million from Everton on the day they faced Chelsea in the Community Shield - one week before the start of the season. 

Mancini had spent the previous weeks courting Roma's Daniele De Rossi and Arsenal's Robin van Persie. The former stayed put in Serie A, the latter joined Manchester United and would be a large part of the reason why the title went back to Old Trafford that year. 

Reports at the time suggested there was little City could have done: the Dutchman wanted to play for Sir Alex Ferguson, putting Manchester United in the driving seat for his signature.

Having missed out on their two main targets, City added five more names. If fans were underwhelmed by Rodwell's signing, you can imagine that they weren't overly enthralled by the second addition of the summer as the club tempted Richard Wright out of retirement to become their third-choice goalkeeper. 

He didn't expect to play again and was actually taking his kids on a tour of Arsenal's Emirates Stadium when he got the call out-of-the-blue. He was as surprised as anyone.

On deadline day, it was almost like City were cutting their losses and just getting names in for the sake of it. Scott Sinclair, £6.2 million from Swansea, and Maicon, £5 million from Inter Milan, were unmitigated failures at the Etihad. 

Javi Garcia, £17 million from Benfica, and Matija Nastasic, £12 million part exchange from Fiorentina, were more successful - but both never lived up to their potential in Manchester in their short stays.

The icing on the cake

Throughout the summer, Mancini cut a frustrated figure. There was no action in the market and it didn't look like anything would change anytime soon. 

Whenever he was asked about it, he always hinted that reporters should ask the sporting director - Brian Marwood - who was in charge of securing players, making it clear he wasn't happy with the situation.

REUTERS/Albert Gea 

As defending champions that year, City just dropped too many points. They weren't scoring enough, netting just 66 goals - roughly 30 fewer than when they won the league.

It ended in disappointment: Mancini sacked a year to the day after securing the club's first title in 44 years following an embarrassing FA Cup final defeat to Wigan. That was the icing on the cake of an underwhelming campaign.

Same old, same old

Manuel Pellegrini had similar problems as he tried to become the first City boss to win back-to-back championships. 

His early failings also came in the transfer market, but that was after the club was hamstrung by what was a harsh punishment under Financial Fair Play Regulations. 

Officials at the club had been expecting to pass the criteria, having worked closely with UEFA to make sure the numbers added up, so they were both shocked and disappointed to hear they'd been in breach of the new laws. They were forced to cap their net spend for that summer and begrudgingly accepted the ruling.

As a result, they were acting in the market with one hand tied behind their back - but that still doesn't really excuse the quality of the job they did.

No end to the disappointment

Bacary Sagna as a free signing was the first to arrive. He'd prove to be solid, if not spectacular, and especially useful when Pablo Zabaleta was injured and out of form a couple of seasons down the line.

The £12 million spent on Fernando from Porto and the £4.4 million paid to Malaga for Willy Caballero didn't prove to be money well invested with neither able to influence proceedings at the Etihad under Pellegrini. 

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado 

Frank Lampard, another free signing, was excellent for the first half of the season - but following the controversy surrounding his move, where the club announced it was a half-season loan from New York City rather than a permanent one-year deal, he disappeared after Christmas.

Worst, though, was the £42 million spent for the signature of Eliaquim Mangala. The fee was originally announced as £32 million but the club later confirmed they'd paid more for the player who had moments that were pure comedy in the City backline. Own goals and gaffes were commonplace and not in keeping with someone who cost so much money.

Dead man walking

It meant that, when City needed to dig in deep towards the second half of the season to keep pace with Chelsea, they were left floundering. 

The two teams were dead level on New Year's Day - even their goal difference and goals scored were the same, the Stamford Bridge side top only on alphabetical order. But the defending champions finished eight points behind the eventual winners due to a run of just four wins in a 12-game spell after Christmas.

At one point, they lost four matches in six and Pellegrini looked a dead man walking, especially when City capitulated at Old Trafford. They'd gone 1-0 up early on and been on top but lost 4-2 to a much-ridiculed Louis Van Gaal United side. 

You suspect that the club's hierarchy had, at the very least, a gentleman's agreement with Guardiola to take charge at the end of the following season by that stage - there was little other reason to stick with Pellegrini at that point such were the performances at the back end of that campaign.

A stronger position

Guardiola is in a stronger position than either of his predecessors. No City boss has had as much power as he has and the sway his name can have in attracting players is a big plus. 

His side also needs nothing like as much work as both Mancini or Pellegrini's title winners, but that doesn't mean it needs no attention at all.

The club has never had a better chance than now of defending the title and becoming the first team in a decade to win back-to-back Premier Leagues. 

If they're going to do it, though, they could really help themselves by getting this transfer window right and learning from previous mistakes.