After much speculation over the past 12 months, worries and rumors alike were put to rest when it was announced Pep Guardiola would be signing a contract extension with Manchester City through the end of the 2022-2023 season, totaling 7 years at the club.
— PepTeam (@PepTeam) November 19, 2020
Manchester City announced this as a two-year extension to his current deal while certain members of the media have suggested it could actually be a one additional guaranteed year with a club option for 2022-2023. Either way, retaining the most successful manager in club history is great news as they look to build another dominant side.
Let’s look at the potential implications of this extension, what we should now expect from Guardiola, and how it will affect City in both the short and long term.
A Second Rebuild Under Pep
Arguably the most exciting prospect of the extension (see below for what likely tops the list) is the challenge Pep faces in going through a second “rebuild” with City, something he’s never done in his managerial career. He made some ruthless decisions to start his tenure at Barcelona and overhauled City in his first few windows in Manchester, but how will he handle it when he has to rebuild something he himself built?
While 2023 may seem far away, this extension may only give Guardiola two untethered opportunities to make significant changes given the club’s reticence to spend big in the winter transfer window. If you then work under the assumption that the alleged club option City have on the second year is real, it’s possible that next season is Pep’s last at the club and that puts enormous pressure on Txiki Begiristain and the recruitment team to get the 2021 summer transfer window right, for both incomings and outgoings. Given the recent struggles of the current squad, will the club look to make wholesale changes?
Pep has always said that if the players don’t respond to his demands anymore, he will leave. It’s difficult to conclude if that type of breakdown has contributed to the dip in form but now that Guardiola is definitively not leaving, what better way to preempt complacency than with a wakeup call in the form of a statement signing and/or sale. The possibility of City signing the likes of Erling Haaland or Lionel Messi next summer and subsequently selling a player of the caliber of Bernardo, Riyad Mahrez, or Ilkay Gundogan looms larger than ever. Calling that a signal of intent would be an understatement, but that type of seismic transaction may be best for both player and club. While there isn’t necessarily “dead wood” in the squad, there are players who have struggled for an extended period of time that could likely benefit from a change of scenery. It’ll be an intriguing storyline to see how “all in” the City board will be on two more years of Pep (as it stands), but it wouldn’t be a shock if they pushed more of their chips into the center of their table.
Things Could Get Messi
This past summer, it felt like City were closer than ever to landing their white whale, Lionel Andrés Messi. With his very public frustration of the Barcelona board, failed attempts to opt out of his current deal, and a contract now set to expire in 2021, all indications are that if he were to actually leave the club he’s been at since he the age of 13, the only destination he’d consider would be Manchester City. With Pep extending until 2023, it feels like the perfect chance to pursue Messi, preferably on a free transfer this summer.
Messi would be pushing 36 years old at the end of the 2023 season, likely the end of his career at the very highest level, and the brevity of his remaining footballing years begs several questions on the likelihood of this transfer. How much does Messi value playing his final years under his favorite manager whom he had the most success under? Would he want to make a move to a new league this late in his career? Does the current state of City give him any reservations on the move? Those will all be questions that will have to be answered but extending Guardiola is the best thing City could do in an effort to attract Messi to the club.
It seems like common sense to acquire Messi if you can, but given his declining numbers and lack of defensive drive over the past few years, is he still worth the financial investment required to attain his services? Even on a free transfer, the wages he would demand will make a dent in the roster budget by itself. Nevertheless, City would be foolish not to pursue him, there’s no doubting he’s still the best player in the world on his day. It’s also likely he’s not been the most motivated after this past summer’s fiasco and he may be able to use a transfer as a way to re-energize himself within a side where he would be less relied upon and playing for a manager who understands his strengths the most. As the January window comes around, this will be one to keep an eye on as City can sign Messi to a pre-contract on a free given he plays in another league. If that comes to fruition, you can bet Pep will be the architect of it.
Change In System?
The 0-2 defeat to Tottenham seemed to encapsulate all the issues we’ve seen this season, with City struggling to break down an opposition that sets up a low block and concedes possession while looking to hit on the counter. Pep explained that the team would need to change, and he would have to lead that change. Despite Guardiola’s notorious stubbornness in regard to tactics, City’s diminished goal scoring (15 through 9 Premier League matches) may inspire a radical tweak sooner rather than later now that Pep will be dealing with those frustrating opposition tactics for an additional year or two.
With City set to play three matches a week through February, there may not be chance to completely properly change from the typical 4-3-3 possession based system this season. But Pep’s experimentation within the current tactical framework could be just as fascinating if he makes adjustments such as allowing the opponent to have any more possession or deploying players in new positions.
Look for Pep to leverage Mendy as an outlet on the left side (I know, I know, if he’s fit) as well as looking to to scale back on the inverted wingers. Another interesting concept is whether Rodri and Fernandinho play together as Brazilian works his way back to full fitness, thus creating a double pivot that provides defensive cover but also the dynamic passing City have been missing from deep in midfield this season. A more extreme alternative would be pairing Rodri with Kevin De Bruyne, who’s defensive nature isn’t comparable to Fernandinho’s but is often at his most creative as a deep lying playmaker. No matter what Pep decides to do, the club has shown their confidence in him with the extension. The front office and fans alike are hoping he can deploy new and effective formation variants so that opponents in the league aren’t all relying on a deep block to stop City’s attack.
Implications For The Next Manager?
When Mikel Arteta was assistant manager under Pep Guardiola from 2016-2019, he looked like someone who could step in as the next manager for Manchester City. He had spent years working under the very manager himself and had been exposed to what the City hierarchy expected of not only their manager, but the coaching staff and its players. While identifying a potential successor to Pep could feel impossible, at so many times it felt right with Arteta. Since the Spaniard departed to Arsenal last season, there’s been a question whether City will look to bring in another former player to join Pep’s staff alongside Brian Kidd, Juanma Lillo, and company to apprentice as a potential successor, with names like Pablo Zabaleta bandied about. Even Fernandinho could eventually be in play now that Pep could stick around until 2023. Obvious candidates to replace Guardiola such as Julian Nagelsmann and Mauricio Pochettino will likely be gainfully employed at new jobs by then. Other candidates will certainly reveal themselves in the interim, but lucky for us – we can hold off on these headlines for a couple more years and keep on enjoying the brilliance of Pep Guardiola!