Pep Guardiola arrived in English football with a well-earned reputation as the best coach in the world. That may well still be true. But is he cutting a good impression so far at Manchester City? No. His latest disdainful and frankly contemptuous TV interview after the 2-1 win over Burnley was embarrassing. Shrugging his shoulders at the perfectly fair questions, he gave a series of monosyllabic answers and acted, in the words of TV pundit John Hartson, “like a spoiled child.”
Nothing wrong with managers being combative with interviewers, but it should always be done with a professional respect. Not with the aloofness displayed by Guardiola, who appeared to resent the fact that anyone had the temerity to question him.
He is not the first manager to have an on-air tantrum. Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Kevin Keegan are among a fair few who have all had their moments. But Guardiola is getting a bad name among the men and women with the microphones on the Premier League beat.
When managers do the postmatch interviews, they aren’t just talking to the media — through them, they’re talking to fans and players. Conducting these exchanges in a civilised manner is part of the managerial art. Guardiola is not winning that public relations battle.
Of course, his general tetchy mood is rooted in a Premier League campaign that has gone badly off the rails. Five points clear at the top of the table in late September, City are now seven points adrift of leaders Chelsea. At times, notably in a 4-2 reverse at Leicester, they have been a shambles.
Asked when his new team might show the style of his Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides, Guardiola admitted: “I don’t know.” That was one of his longer recent answers.
Any manager is allowed to have a moan when things are not going well. Interviewers have lived in dread of a few, and Guardiola is on the brink of joining that list.
But there is something more precious, even snobbish, about the Manchester City manager’s attitude, especially given the reverence with which he was treated on arrival in England. He appears to think English football is all a bit unsophisticated with its accent on speed, power, physicality and referees who seem to interpret the laws in a different way to the rest of the planet.
Yet he knew all that when he agreed to take on the challenge. Guardiola probably had a fair point in insisting his keeper Claudio Bravo was impeded on the Burnley goal. But Fernandinho’s two-footed aerial lunge and scissor movement is a red card whether you are in Manchester, Miami or Montevideo.
That left Guardiola’s supposedly sophisticated team bottom of the Fair Play league with the worst disciplinary record in England’s top flight.
The harsh truth — and Guardiola surely knows it — is that City do not possess the quality of players he had in Spain and Germany. This is an ageing squad in need of an overhaul, with a defence and keeper who do not inspire confidence.
After his petulant interview, Guardiola was seen in an animated discussion with City executives in the tunnel. He is facing the biggest challenge of his coaching career to get City back in the title race.
Of course, Guardiola’s wonderful record of producing winning teams that are worth watching suggests he will find the right blend, but it might be next season now. His bad mood is easy to understand, and he might feel he has no need to explain himself to media people without his grasp of the game. Perhaps so.
But millions are watching these awkward exchanges, and Guardiola is a talented man who must have winced if he watched that interview. He is far better than the rather charmless individual he currently must seem to those who see only his TV persona.
Indeed, his current demeanour does him and City no favours. Players watch these interviews avidly and might be concerned to see their manager so clearly out of his comfort zone.
Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, is ESPN’s lead soccer voice in the U.S. Reach him on Twitter @IanDarke.