Joe Butterfield wipes away the media hysteria to find a passionate and animated coach showing a typical lack of restraint. Warning: The following contains lots of common sense.
On Wednesday night, Raheem Sterling scored a 30th minute winner (96th minute if we’re including time Fraser Forster spent preparing to take goal kicks) for Manchester City, keeping Pep Guardiola’s men’s lead over their local rivals at a respectable eight points, rather than the less convincing six it had threatened to be. Emotions ran high, coaching staff flooded the pitch to celebrate with the players, Benjamin Mendy managed to run off a ruptured cruciate ligament injury and Pep Guardiola punched the air with Anthony Joshua-esque power, as if oxygen itself had been the team which had wasted time from minute one of the match.
After the celebrations, the teams took their positions back on the pitch and the referee allowed Charlie Austin to touch the ball from kick off before blowing the final whistle. The fans, the players, the coaching staff and half of Manchester was flying high on Raheem’s dream. Pep, as always, rushed out to congratulate the opposition players as well as his own as he does after every game. However, in the midst of this he stopped at one particular player, Nathan Redmond, and began to enter full “Pep Mode”.
Pep Mode, for those who are unaware, is a specific state of mind which Pep enters when he’s instructing a player on how to play and offering coaching advice. The Catalan’s exuberance and wild gesticulation from the sideline is a well-documented phenomenon, however on the training pitch this undertakes a whole new level. The video of Guardiola teaching Raheem Sterling how to score against Feyenoord did the rounds not long ago and Guardiola telling Joshua Kimmich what he could have done better after he played a near-perfect game against Borussia Dortmund are noteworthy examples of Pep Mode in full flow. Simon Mullock gives a great account of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of one of these moments. Not hateful, not negative, just raw Guardiola.
Guardiola found Nathan Redmond and began to enter a similar pattern of behaviour. A lot of gesticulating, some pushing in the chest, a lot of close-proximity contact and a lot of shouting. To many who had not seen Pep Mode before, this appeared to be an angry outburst from the Manchester City manager and many assumed that the man who begun the interaction by enthusiastically shaking the hand of Redmond and putting his arm around him had then decided to follow those actions up by telling Redmond that he is literally the worst person ever.
Match of the Day picked up on the footage after it had done the rounds shortly after the game and Ian Wright and Danny Murphy, two former footballers who are in somewhat of a good position when it comes to judging player/manager interactions as they spent the best part of twenty years seeing such conversations on a daily basis, both agreed that this was exactly what Guardiola had said it was in his post-match interview – Pep telling Redmond that he’s a gifted footballer who should have been expressing himself more than he had.
It’s no secret that Guardiola loves the beautiful game. He was raised in the absolute peak of Cruyff football, schooled in La Masia, he lived and breathed Barcelona’s traditional style and he still does to this very day. It is, therefore, rather unsurprising that he’d encourage an attacking player to play in an attacking way, taking on their man and playing to their strengths. Guardiola referenced Redmond’s effectiveness against City in the same fixture last season, a game in which he scored the opening goal.
Lots of people, both within the fan and media, are somewhat affronted by the idea that Guardiola told Redmond to be more expressive. He’s just doing what his manager told him, as Redmond said in his response to Pep, how dare Pep undermine Mauricio Pellegrino’s management in such a way! It reeks of arrogance, I tell you, he should be ashamed of himself. After all, who is two-time Champions League winning, three-time Club World Cup winning, three-time UEFA Super Cup winning, three-time La Liga winning, three-time Bundesliga winning, two-time Copa Del Rey winning, three-time SuperCopa de Espana winning, two-time DfB Pokal winning Pep Guardiola to give players advice on how to play their best football?
One of the most hilarious reactions to the whole thing, however, came from Manchester Evening News’s Manchester United Editor, and Jose Mourinho’s personal cheerleader, Sam Luckhurst. The headline for his article on the matter simply read, “Manchester United should be furious if Man City coach Pep Guardiola avoids ban”. The article is about as subtle as Romelu Lukaku’s attempts to kick Brighton defenders, as the opening line reads, “If Jose Mourinho had prodded, gesticulated and ranted at an opposition player there would have been a communique from the FA detailing his latest improper conduct charge.”
Luckhurst then claims that Guardiola had intimidated Nathan Redmond, completely ignoring the fact that Redmond quite visibly smiled as he replied to the City boss. He also goes on to explain how Mourinho is really hard done by compared to other managers in the league, as he also goes on to reference both Klopp and Conte’s touchline antics, the latter of which is apparently “as antagonistic as a Trump tweet”. Mourinho is apparently mistreated by the FA, however the only example of this injustice which Luckhurst seems able to provide is the rather ridiculous ban he received after kicking a water bottle during a match against West Ham, which would probably suggest that Mourinho’s other ninety-nine touchline bans have all been absolutely justified.
Luckhurst’s article brings me on to one of the more common responses I’ve seen to Manchester City fans when talking about the circus this Redmond situation has become – the Jose Mourinho clause. “What if it was Mourinho who had been doing this? Wouldn’t you be asking for him to be banned?”
As somebody who hates Mourinho with a near-irrational (hating Mourinho can never be truly irrational) level of bias, even I can’t imagine a scenario where Mourinho shouts at an opposition player after shaking his hand and putting his arm round him, followed by said player then smiling as he replies to him, only for me to then feel like Mourinho is in the wrong. It’s a fairly obvious sequence of events and it’s one which has caused a rather outrageous level of controversy, even when just taken on face value.
To suggest that Mourinho would receive unfair treatment when compared to Guardiola in this situation is ridiculous and, frankly, wrong. Mourinho is just coming off the back of his top-goalscorer getting off scot-free for kicking, and I refuse to use the word “allegedly” here because there’s literally video evidence of him doing it, an opposition defender. If there was some kind of anti-Mourinho bias, as Luckhurst claims, surely they’d relish the opportunity to rob him of one of his star players with both Arsenal and Manchester City games looming? The Mourinho argument is a lazy justification for turning this particular molehill into Mt Everest and somehow implies that Jose Mourinho, a man who once sat in a press conference and sarcastically called every journalist in the room “Einsteins” and still received far less criticism than Guardiola did for once being abrupt with a Match of the Day journalist in the immediate aftermath of a frustrating game of football, is somehow given a tough time by everybody.
At the time of writing this, Nathan Redmond has responded to the madness on Twitter, citing one particular headline by The Sun which claims Guardiola, a man whose vocabulary when it comes to expressing joy only extends as far as the words “so, so happy”, called Redmond “a wanker”.
“Yes he was very passionate, intense and aggressive but he was only very complimentary and positive to me. He commented on my qualities as a young English player and how he wanted me to attack his team more during the game in a similar was to last season. I told him I was doing what my manager had asked me to do in the game. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.”
It seems Pep Mode was well and truly engaged, as is no surprise to anybody with any prior knowledge of his management. Nathan Redmond, as the footage had clearly shown, was unaffected by Pep’s actions, so that should surely be the end of it all, right? Although, let’s not rule out the possibility that Pep is still at Nathan Redmond’s house right now, continuing to wildly gesticulate and prod, shouting about how to take on full-backs, while Redmond blinks morse code in desperate pleas for help directly to Sam Luckhurst.
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