LONDON (AP) - Only six months into his Manchester City reign, Pep Guardiola has sounded tetchy and strained by the demands of English soccer.
And the 45-year-old already seems to be counting down to his departure. Not just from City and the English Premier League but soccer completely.
“Manchester City is three years or maybe longer but I am still approaching at the end of my career like a manager,” Guardiola said in broken English in an interview with American network NBC taped in early December but only broadcast last week. “I am pretty sure of that.”
But the end is not imminent.
Before City scrambles to start the search for a successor, Guardiola is clearly not planning an immediate escape from Manchester however chilly he is finding his first English winter.
“I will not be a trainer @ 60 or 65 years old,” Guardiola stated, looking ahead to the 2030s.
And within City there is no sense Guardiola is taking his eye off the challenge of bringing the Premier League trophy back to the Etihad for the first time since 2014.
Guardiola, who was particularly testy after Monday’s league win over Burnley, is quickly discovering just how tough the competition is. City has opened the second half of the season in third place and is seven points behind leader Chelsea, which also has a game in hand, while Manchester United is only three points further back in sixth.
Unlike in his previous jobs at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, there’s no guarantee of a trophy at the end of Guardiola’s first season and the comments to NBC will create uncertainty, if unintended, about his commitment to City.
It is curious for anyone to announce so early into any job that they are already thinking about their departure. Even more so when you have been pursued for so long by City, which installed former Barcelona executives to make the club more appealing to Guardiola.
But when City managed to land Guardiola, the club knew it was hiring someone not interested in long-term projects. Guardiola won a trio of Spanish titles and two Champions League crowns with Barcelona between 2008 and 2012 before vacating the Camp Nou dugout.
Three seasons at Bayern Munich, collecting another trio of domestic titles, were enough for Guardiola before taking up a new challenge in Manchester.
Guardiola might be obsessive when in a job, but he is not addicted to soccer or the limelight. Between the Barcelona and Bayern jobs, he was content to take a year’s sabbatical living in New York. And in the United States, Guardiola was fascinated by an apparent “American culture” in the workplace.
“People are not staying in the same place for a long time,” he said. “They move a lot and I believe in that.”
Guardiola’s soccer aura has faded in England, with City’s four league losses more than any rival in the top six. The latest impediment in the title pursuit was inflicted by Liverpool as former Bundesliga rival Juergen Klopp got the better of Guardiola.
In Guardiola’s first taste of the packed festive program in English soccer, City was back in action inside 48 hours on Monday. The game against Burnley started badly with Fernandinho being sent off but 10-man City did manage to claim a 2-1 victory.
Rather than celebrating, Guardiola gave curt post-match interviews where he sounded irritated with the line of questioning about City’s disciplinary problems and the interview about his future.
It was far from a meltdown as Guardiola has to operate within the constraints of Football Association rules that restrict how coaches can talk about referees. A frustrated Guardiola talked about “special rules” in England, reflecting how he is still getting accustomed to how soccer laws are interpreted by Premier League referees, rather than criticizing their quality.
“I have to adapt,” Guardiola said.
Perhaps, Guardiola has sensed the glee that seems to greet each setback in England and claims his coaching reputation is reliant on being fortunate to have Lionel Messi among his Barcelona talents.
Far from being egotistical, Guardiola accepts he is “not exceptional.”
“I was lucky to train outstanding players in a big club,” he said. “If I would have trained lower teams than Barcelona and Bayern Munich I would not have won this amount of incredible titles I have won. For the people who believe Pep comes here and City’s going to win. No.”
And no, Guardiola isn’t already packing his bags and heading for Manchester Airport.
Guardiola was quoted across British media on Tuesday as telling NBC that “the process of my goodbye has already started” - a comment that never featured in the broadcast interview.
The headlines, though, will do little to dispel the notion that Guardiola’s dedication to City is wavering.
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports
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