Thursday, October 21, 2021

Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish aren’t the first to witness Pep Guardiola losing his cool

His eyes bulged, his face was contorted with rage and his fingers jabbed furiously at the air. Manchester City may have been thrashing RB Leipzig but Pep Guardiola was far from happy.

In the manager’s view, Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez hadn’t been tracking back enough and fulfilling their defensive responsibilities – and he wasn’t going to let the matter lie.

Nobody would describe Guardiola as having a volcanic temper all the time but when a player doesn’t meet his high standards he isn’t shy of public confrontation.

That’s precisely what happened during the second-half of City’s bonkers 6-3 win on Wednesday night.

£100million man Grealish and Mahrez were summoned to the touchline in turn and had the riot act read to them accompanied by some wild hand gestures.

Mahrez made an attempt to argue back but was summarily dismissed with an angry word, while Grealish was more supine and listened intently. Both were in no doubt as to where they’d been going wrong afterwards.

‘We spoke in half-time about the way we have to do it and they didn’t do it,’ Guardiola explained afterwards. ‘Fights happen.’

He went on to offer a tactical explanation that Leipzig were luring City out of defensive positions before working the ball out wide to their quick players.

No doubt a similar point had been made – albeit in an angrier tone of voice – to Grealish and Mahrez. Track back or we’re in trouble.

Guardiola’s anger even spilled into his post-match interview, with the City supporters also copping some flak from the Spaniard after 17,000 seats were left empty for their first European outing of the season.

‘We need the people, please, because we will be tired,’ he said.

‘I know the team from Ralph (Hasenhuttl) is quite similar, they way they play. They’re so dangerous and it’s a really important game.

‘So I invite all our people to come next Saturday at 3pm to watch.’

It was a dig that some supporters called ‘disappointing and ‘uncalled for’ as it was suggested the 50-year-old should concentrate his focus to matters on the pitch.

But they’re far from the first targets Guardiola has lost his cool with inside the stadium and they don’t necessarily even have to be in his team.

One that sticks in many minds was Guardiola’s bizarre attempt to praise Southampton’s Nathan Redmond at the end of a City match in 2017.

At first glance, the footage of Guardiola accosting the winger looks very much like they’re having a heated argument.

But it emerged afterwards that Guardiola simply wanted to convey his admiration for Redmond’s abilities even if it’s a very odd thing for an opposition manager to do in such a manner.

‘Guardiola commented on my qualities as a young English player and how he wanted me to attack his team more during the game,’ Redmond said after a 2-1 defeat for the Saints.

‘He was very passionate, intense and aggressive but he was only very complimentary and positive to me.

‘When one of the world’s best managers compliments you or gives you advice in any way, you listen.’

It seems tactical mastermind Guardiola just couldn’t resist conveying a few pointers, even to an opposition player. ‘[I told him] how good a player he is. Last season he destroyed us here,’ he said.

A little later, Guardiola admitted his behaviour had been a bit out of order.

‘Sometimes you feel you go. For example, the ridiculous I did with Redmond. I don’t want to do that, believe me, but sometimes you do that,’ he said.

‘Sometimes you control yourself and say it’s not necessary to go there…’

But most of the time, Guardiola’s rage is genuine and directed squarely at players on his own team for not carrying out his instructions to the letter or even disrespecting the opposition.

In November 2018, he marched onto the field after City had beaten Manchester United 3-1 in the derby to confront Raheem Sterling over his showboating.

The England star had performed a few step-overs in the closing moments, to the delight of the Etihad Stadium crowd but not his boss.

Sterling looked confused and tried to plead his innocence as Guardiola made clear his displeasure.

‘He made some movements with the legs, we can avoid it. But he’s young and he’s going to improve,’ Guardiola said.

Not that Guardiola’s touchline anger is anything new. Even at Barcelona, where his team took football to fresh heights, there were moments of pure rage.

In March 2012, Alexis Sanchez limped out of a game against Sporting Gijon with a hamstring injury but there was little sympathy from his manager.

‘Alex! For goodness sake! 90 minutes, use your head,’ Guardiola screamed at him, pretty much blaming the Chilean for injuring himself through carelessness.

But such incidents were more common during Guardiola’s unsuccessful three-year quest to deliver European glory to Bayern Munich between 2013 and 2016.

Midfielder Thiago Alcantara knew the manager well from his time at Barcelona but that didn’t stop him getting a slap across the face for an indiscretion during a SuperCup defeat to Dortmund.

And in 2016, after another Klassiker, Guardiola took it upon himself to give a young Joshua Kimmich a one-on-one coaching session just seconds after the final whistle.

The defensive midfielder almost had to recoil with Guardiola’s animated face just a couple of inches from his own.

The match had ended in a goalless draw and Bayern would go onto win the title by 10 points but that didn’t spare Kimmich from a tactical dressing down.

A year earlier, Guardiola had exploded at Thomas Muller during a 3-0 humbling by his old club Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Muller was upset to have been withdrawn with Bayern just one goal behind in the Nou Camp, shaking his head as he took his place in the dug-out and Guardiola wasn’t amused.

On this occasion, the player might have had a point. Lionel Messi scored Barcelona’s second goal moments later and Neymar then added a killer third.

So why does Guardiola do it? Why the tough love for his players even in the middle of a match?

He has tried to make sense of his sometimes irrational actions, saying he can’t show signs of weakness or distraction from his pursuit of perfection.

‘Sometimes I shout at my players when I should not but I cannot control it,’ he said earlier this year. ‘When I was a player, it was like this too – it’s the way I am.

‘I don’t want to be fake to myself. I don’t want to feel weak. These are the demands on myself and I demand it of my players too. They have to know that I am not resting.

‘They have to [follow me]. When they arrive here, they have to know we must win. If you do not accept it, you cannot be here.

‘That’s the only way at the big clubs. Our chairman does not want one day of sleep or rest. We push each other to be better.’

Guardiola’s brilliant track record of success proves his occasional explosions of anger do get results even if the player might not appreciate it in the heat of the moment.
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