Heart Of Football

Guardiola's kingdom stretches across four continents

If Pep Guardiola was a vain man, he would by now have been tripped up by his own ego.

He was a pivotal player in the Johan Cruyff Dream Team of Barcelona in 1992. He coached Barca to win every title under the sun, coached Bayern Munich to three successive Bundesliga titles, and has the English Premier League almost in the bag by Christmas.

But that is not the half of Guardiola's influence or responsibility. He is the de facto head coach to six clubs on four continents: Manchester City, Melbourne City, New York City, Yokohama F Marinos, Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay, and Girona in Spain.

They all belong in whole or in part to The City Football Group (CFG) whose paymaster is Sheikh Mansour, fifth son of the Emir of Abu Dhabi.

The aims are multiple. Beyond football, they put the United Arab Emirates on a global stage. In football terms, they provide Manchester City with a labyrinth of income that makes it very difficult for Uefa to impose Financial Fair Play rules that are meant to prevent clubs spending more than they earn.

That is not Guardiola's concern. He is paid a reported £15.3 million (S$27.47 million) annual salary to get results for Manchester City, and the Sheikh's representatives are willing to renegotiate that upwards if this season goes to plan.

With the January window, City are expected to improve on defence, and possibly midfield, to plug gaps in the billion-dollar squad at Guardiola's disposal.

Striker Sergio Aguero puts Manchester City in front with a diving header, his 100th goal at the Etihad Stadium, in the 4-0 win over Bournemouth for City's record 17th-straight Premier League success. He also scored the third goal, the team's 100th in
Striker Sergio Aguero puts Manchester City in front with a diving header, his 100th goal at the Etihad Stadium, in the 4-0 win over Bournemouth for City's record 17th-straight Premier League success. He also scored the third goal, the team's 100th in the league in 2017, after Raheem Sterling made it 2-0. Danilo wrapped up the rout. PHOTO: REUTERS

Beyond that, each CFG club are tasked with replicating, as far as possible, the Guardiola style. That, in case you haven't noticed, is sweeping, high energy, sweet passing, goal-filled football.

Pep's demands are communicated through a touchline dance that lets, for example, Sergio Aguero know that if he slackens even slightly, Gabriel Jesus will replace him on the pitch.

Ditto most positions, except for Kevin de Bruyne whose form is so consistent, so extraordinary, that there is no like-for-like replacement.

But that is not the half of Guardiola's influence or responsibility. He is the de facto head coach to six clubs on four continents: Manchester City, Melbourne City, New York City, Yokohama F Marinos, Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay, and Girona in Spain. Rob Hughes

However, take away David Silva, and Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan or Yaya Toure can step in. You get the gist. City's season has broken all records because City's squad is built to do that across all fronts.

It doesn't stop there for Guardiola. In New York, the head coach Patrick Vieira (yes, the famous Vieira) is asked to mirror Manchester City's play as closely as he can. So, too, are the coaches in the City Group's other franchises.

City can lend a big hand to Girona. Five players from the parent cub in Manchester are on loan to Girona, who play in the Spanish league but identify themselves even closer towards Catalan independence than Pep's beloved Barca.

Girona Futbol Club won promotion to LaLiga this summer. Shortly afterwards, City Football Group purchased 44.3 per cent of the club. Another 44.3 per cent tranche belongs to a group of investors led by Pere Guardiola.

Yes, Pere is Pep's younger brother, and his agent. They are not doing badly for the sons of a bricklayer who worked well into his sixties on building sites.

Make no mistake, Pep is the talented one, and the driving force. His father, Valenti once described his eldest boy as "a born leader, but he couldn't change a lightbulb".

He doesn't have to. In three cultures, three languages, three very demanding and different parts of Europe, Pep Guardiola has illuminated the scene.

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His vision is the one implanted in him by Cruyff who identified Pep as an outstanding player at 13 years of age in La Masia, the youth academy at Barcelona.

It is no coincidence that the Cruyff way, imbuing the notion of beautiful (indeed Total) football from childhood upwards, is championed by both Ajax, Cruyff's first club in Amsterdam, and Barcelona, who had the wealth to bring his vision to fruition.

The movers and shakers from Abu Dhabi knew what they wanted when they bought Man City in 2008. Over time, they hired Ferran Soriano, the former financial officer of Barcelona, as chief executive at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.

And he hired Txiki Begiristain, a former colleague of Guardiola in the Dream Team, to be City's director of football. Together, they resolved to bring Pep to the Etihad. And while Soriano built, and still builds, the Abu Dhabi City global enterprise on all continents, this too was a Cruyff dream.

The academy at Barcelona's Nou Camp formed Guardiola and Iniesta, and Xavi and Messi, among many others. The academy at Ajax forged Cruyff and formulated Total Football. The Ajax youth system is still running, and Ajax Cape Town, set up in 1999, is the forerunner of what the Dutch masters would have done across the world - if only they had a bottomless well of money.

Soriano's vision, paid for by the Emirates petro-dollar, is a manifestation of all that. One way in which it works involves Aaron Mooy, an Australian.

Mooy had chased his own ambition to Britain long before the City Group spotted him. He tried out as a Bolton Wanderers player when he was 19, then played for St Mirren in Scotland before going home to Sydney. Melbourne City took him in 2014, and sold him on to Manchester City two years later.

The fee amounted to £425,000. Within a week, City loaned him to Huddersfield Town and, after Mooy shone in Huddersfield's promotion to the EPL, a permanent deal was struck to make him a Town Terrier for keeps.

Huddersfield broke their record payment by giving City £8 million rising to £10 million if targets are met. The profit easily outweighs Manchester City's investment in Melbourne City.

Everyone is a winner. Mooy never got a minute in Guardiola's line-up, but he is Huddersfield's best player. And every little helps to balance the accounts to convince Uefa that City live within earned income.

Guardiola has, if he wants them, first refusal on 240 players in the group's clubs. Having them all trained his way would either be the ultimate ego trip, or an awesome burden of responsibility. The kingdom of Pep Guardiola.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 24, 2017, with the headline 'Guardiola's kingdom stretches across four continents'. Print Edition | Subscribe