Relentless will to improve drives City to greatness
Three trophies, an amazing tally of 169 goals in 61 games and some of the most mesmerizing football ever seen in England tell only half the story of Manchester City’s incredible success.
Leading 6-0 in the FA Cup final on Saturday with the treble secure and their fans in full voice at Wembley, half a dozen City players strained every sinew to chase back and douse a rare Watford attack, showing the relentless work ethic that underpins every great side.
The all-conquering Barcelona and Spain teams of the early 2000s passed the ball like nobody before them, but also worked harder than any opponent when they did not have it.
City manager Pep Guardiola, schooled in such methods at the Nou Camp, has instilled that mentality in his players.
Raheem Sterling and David Silva had no right to win aerial challenges on the edge of the Watford box against bigger, stronger opponents but both did to set up Silva for the opening goal after 26 minutes.
The lung-bursting runs continued throughout the game as City, tired according to their coach, eventually tore Watford apart, completing the joint-biggest win in the 147-year history of the world’s oldest cup competition.
Guardiola, with help from assistant Mikel Arteta, has transformed Sterling from a tricky winger with infuriatingly wayward finishing into a prolific goalscorer who has now found the net almost 50 times for City in the last two seasons.
There was something of a debate about whether Sterling should have been credited with City’s second goal, the ball seemingly over the line from Gabriel Jesus, but he was in no mood to care having finished the game with two more.
“I don’t have a Scooby-Doo (clue),” he said of the 38th-minute goal. “The boys did brilliantly. My goals added to the win. It shows what the manager is building here. He said we needed to get the mentality right and we did that and did it exceptionally well.”
Guardiola passed the baton of praise straight back.
“Because I was a player, I know that the players deserve the recognition but we are here to push them,” he said.
“Raheem made an incredible season, he was so strong and he is a huge competitor.”
Ahead of the trophy presentation, while most of the City squad danced around the pitch among a sea of blue and white tinsel, Guardiola could be seen in earnest discussion with Sterling – and he was not congratulating him.
“The reason why we have done what we have done is Raheem but in the first half, he was not so good,” he said. “He made actions where he should have been quicker and he didn’t pass the ball… You have to push to be better – that’s the only way.”
Looking back at how his team secured the unprecedented treble, Guardiola was almost in awe of their ability to keep churning out results.
“To have gone 10 months in all competitions and be the first team to do that is incredible,” he said. “It means we have been consistent every three days.”
The one blip on his stunning City CV is his failure to crack Europe. That will be central to his thinking next season but, for now, he was enjoying the good times.
“I love the Champions League but it is more difficult to do what we have done,” he said. “We won the league by one point. We are not in a position to be relaxed. Always you can improve.
“We’ll come back from the summer, when some players have the Nations League and the Copa America and we don’t know how they’ll come back, and take things game by game.
“We know each other better and we know our standards. We can’t think too much about winning four titles in one season – it’s incredible but we must not think about how many.”
REUTERS/Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond