By Alex Netherton & Andi Thomas
There are times when it just doesn’t seem worth carrying on. Sure, you turn up, you go through the motions, you put in your shift and you clock off again, but your heart’s not in it. Because you know, deep down, that you’re not good enough. That’ll you never be good enough. That there just isn’t much point any more. That you’ve been judged, and found wanting.
No, not us, you cruel, heartless, commenting bastards. The Premier League. All of it. Rejected and dejected, snubbed and sidelined. He didn’t just turn down Chelsea, and Arsenal, and Manchester (major and minor). Pep Guardiola turned down a culture, a people, and a nation.
You could feel it at the City of Manchester stadium. The broad grin on Roberto Mancini’s face jarred with the sulphurous clouds pouring from the rooms, board and dressing. Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano kept minimising Easyjet browser windows when anybody ambled into the room. Gareth Barry sat quietly in the corner with a much-unfolded, much-refolded picture of Sergio Busquets. David Silva kept telling the same joke, shrill and insistent, then laughing into the silence slightly too loudly. Carlos Tevez wasn’t in the mood for his second antelope. (They won easily, of course, but then it was Fulham away from home.)
You could feel it at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal spent the first half staring dully into space, wondering if they’d done something wrong, if they could have been somehow better. Thinking that perhaps their hilarious inadequacy had somehow contributed to the overall picture. Then Chelsea, who’d been taking gleeful advantage of their rival’s torpor, were suddenly overwhelmed with the pointlessness of it all, and sat down to have a little cry. Roman Abramovich stared from the sideline with glassy eyes, wondering how it all went the way of the pear, as Rafa Benitez moved around the technical area waving his hands like a penguin trying to climb out of a bin-bag. When you have that many technically-adept mini-footballers, Abramovich considered, maybe it wasn’t a problem money could solve. He then dismissed that idea out of hand and set light to four million gold bullion to keep him warm.
And you could feel it at White Hart Lane, where Manchester United and Tottenham spent ninety minutes dropping half-muttered platitudes – No worries. Things’ll pick up. Have a goal. Why, thanks. Not at all. You want one near the end. Aye, go on then. Cold, isn’t it? Yep, that it is. – into bleak and lonely silences. Gareth Bale was a mess, and spent most of the second half hiding behind a corner flag. David de Gea battled bravely, but couldn’t quite hold it all together. Clint Dempsey forgot to fall over at the crucial moment. Even Alex Ferguson’s traditional post-match blaming of the officials lacked conviction; it had to be done, for form’s sake, but his heart wasn’t in it.
(You couldn’t feel it at Anfield, though, because
Norwich Liverpool have got the greatest manager in the world and Norwich Luis Suarez is better than Lionel Messi and Norwich Daniel Sturridge is essentially Iniesta but with better dance moves and Norwich Jordan Henderson is basically Xavi but with way more potential. They vibrate to their own frequency up there, and that’s fine.)
Oh Pep! Oh why? Oh how could you do this to us! Think of what you’re missing! All the opportunities you’re passing up. The glitz! The glamour! The shouting! The endless, senseless, shrieking. The chance to have your signings (foreign) hysterically dismissed by a thunderingly lazy and xenophobic press. The chance to have your signings (English) hysterically overhyped by a thunderingly lazy and xenophobic press. The chance to have your methods questioned by professional amateur golfers, your integrity impugned by a knight of the realm, and your defensive frailties brutally exposed on Gary Neville’s Tablet of Judgement. The chance to have Jamie Redknapp, and his trousers, gazing at your midfield and saying “Look, the problem is they’re passing it too much if anything. When did a pass ever score a goal?”.
And to go there. Germany. Of all the places…How much money did they offer you, Pep? Was it the fizzy beer? The varied sausages? Their not-quite-as-completely-buggered-as-the-rest-of-us economy? Or was the coherent, fan-centred, healthy structure to their football, you weird, bald hippie? Why do you hate freedom, Pep? Why do you hate the inherent justice and beauty and righteousness of the market? Why do you hate us? We are the best league in the world! It said so on the television! It must be true. On the television, Pep. The television. With Jamie Redknapp and his trousers, Pep. His trousers.
Go on home now. It’s done.