FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES

Pep needs some PR training

Pep Guardiola is many things, but it is increasingly clear that a PR expert is not one of them.
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The Manchester City boss responded to seeing a relatively empty Etihad Stadium for the win over RB Leipzig in midweek by calling for fans to turn up on Saturday – an approach that was never likely to go down well with his own supporters.
“I would like more people to come to the next game on Saturday,” Guardiola said after the game.
“We will need the people next Saturday, please, because we will be tired. I invite all our people to come next Saturday, 3pm, and watch the game.”
Oh Pep.
There are so many issues at play here:
  • Man City fans have a famously difficult relationship with UEFA and the Champions League, so low European attendances aren’t a huge surprise.
  • The country is still firmly in the grip of a pandemic, with stadiums reopening only really quite recently.
  • Many families are struggling financially after a period when many lost work or were forced to change their lifestyles completely.
  • £40 for a ticket might not seem a lot to somebody on Pep’s wages, but it is quite a lot to many people.
  • And, probably most importantly in this case, Man City fans are extremely sensitive about two main things. Accusations that the club have bought success… and claims that City don’t have any fans.
Pep Guardiola making a public call for more fans to show up will only embolden opposition fans who want to lay the boot into City’s ‘small’ supporter base. If you’re already on the receiving end of that kind of wind-up week in and week out, the last thing you need is your own manager joining in with the jibes.

3 agosto 2021, amichevole Manchester City-Blackpool. L'allenatore del Manchester City Josep Guardiola (Getty Images)

Image credit: Getty Images

"It just takes the edge off what was a good night. People are talking more about Pep’s comments than a fantastic game,” said Kevin Parker, the general secretary of the Man City supporters club.
He’s absolutely the best coach in the world but, in the nicest possible way, I think maybe he should stick to that.
Parker may be getting dangerously close to the problematic ‘stick to sports’ angle there… but in this case he’s not wrong. By going public in the way that he has, Guardiola will not have improved his standing with the supporters.
It doesn’t even matter if he’s right. Football fans don’t want the truth. They want to be told their club is the best.
Just look at Jurgen Klopp in contrast; a manager who will openly lie to his club’s own supporters (“Trent Alexander-Arnold is the best right-back in the world” for example) to help boost the spirit in the fanbase.
Pep has mucked this one up big time, and the City fans, or their supporters club spokesperson at least, knows it.
“To question the support, which is effectively what he is doing, is disappointing and uncalled for,” Parker added.
It does also play into the hands of supporters from other teams who want to take every opportunity to have a go at City for what they think are the poor attendances.
“People refer to the Etihad as the ‘Emptyhad’. It’s a little bit of fun by the opposition supporters but there’s no justification for it. Our attendances are generally excellent.”
Poor Kevin, he didn’t need Pep to pipe up on this issue too.

Ndombele: Mercurial talent or massive waste of money?

Tanguy Ndombele is a bizarre footballer.
There were times during Tottenham’s draw with Rennes when Ndombele looked head and shoulders the best midfielder on the park, producing moments and pieces of skill that took the breath away.
And yet there’s a reason, or indeed a number of reasons, why he isn’t a certain starter for Spurs against Chelsea this weekend.
Essentially the argument comes down to whether you value what he can do more than what he can’t do. And whether or not his weaknesses can be covered up by the rest of the team.
Those weaknesses aren’t necessarily work-rate as many claim, he certainly put a shift in against Rennes. It’s more about defensive capability rather than intent.
And in Nuno Espirito Santo’s preferred 4-3-3 formation, it’s not straightforward to accommodate a create-first player like Ndombele in the midfield three without sacrificing some solidity.
It’s one of the big conundrums facing the Spurs boss during his tenure – how to take the club's group of midfielders and turn them into a cohesive unit.
Jose Mourinho failed. So far it’s hard to know whether Nuno will have any better luck.
It may be that the question won’t need to be answered this coming weekend. Spurs may well be without all three of their leading wide forwards, with Son Heung-Min, Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn all injured.
And if a 4-3-3 is no longer an option, then there’s no pressing need to work out how Ndombele fits into it.

Did Rodgers blow it?

Brendan Rodgers was minutes away from producing one of the biggest European results in Leicester City’s history.
But one towering header from Victor Osimhen and the whole conversation changes.
Without the late Napoli equaliser the performance from Leicester looks like a tactical masterclass: starting Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans on the bench and killing the Italian visitors on the break before bringing on the more lauded names to control the game once ahead.
But the Osimhen-inspired comeback means that the team selection suddenly becomes an unnecessary gamble, a bizarre wasted opportunity after waiting so long for a game against one of Europe’s bigger clubs.
The situation brings to mind Gareth Southgate’s comments after a risky selection in the win over Germany at Euro 2020.
Following that match Southgate said, “if I pick that team and we don’t win, I’m dead”.
Leicester didn’t win, so Rodgers is getting pelters from a section of the supporters. But that doesn’t mean the approach was necessarily the wrong one.

RETRO CORNER

It is 75 years to the day since one of West Ham United’s greatest ever players was born.
William Arthur Bonds, or Billy Bonds as he is more commonly known, racked up an astonishing 799 appearances for the Hammers in a career at the club that spanned 21 years.
Nobody has come close to matching that number of games for the east London club, and nobody is likely to again.
Bonds was named in the Queen’s honours list in 1988 and even has a stand named after him at the London Stadium.
A Hammers legend, 75 today. Happy Birthday Billy!

HAT-TIP

Lionel Messi’s first major interview as a Paris Saint-Germain player was to a man called Ibai Llanos, who was broadcasting exclusively on Twitch.
Rory Stewart takes a fascinating dive in the New York Times ($) into the world of Twitch journalism and why it is attracting such interest from professional footballers.
Players who habitually distrust the news media have been happy to spend as much as a couple of hours talking to Llanos on Twitch, the Amazon-owned livestreaming service. That is turning him into a breakout star of the internet age in Spain and, at times, occasionally invoking the wrath of journalists from more traditional outlets who envy the access he enjoys and disdain his lack of training.
You can read the article (if you have a subscription) HERE.

COMING UP

Nothing says Friday Night Football quite like Newcastle vs Leeds United. The big game kicks off at 8pm UK time.
Andi Thomas will be back with Monday’s Warm-Up and reaction to Arsenal’s inevitable loss to Burnley at Turf Moor.
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