Defeats do not come more difficult than the one that Manchester City suffered in Madrid on Wednesday evening. Two goals ahead going into the final minute but still somehow eliminated from the Champions League. What could Pep Guardiola say?
Very little, he admits. This is Friday afternoon. He has not watched the game back. “Of course, we can analyse,” he tells Sky Sports. “But in this type of game there are a lot of emotions involved and now I prefer to be focused on Newcastle.”
That is the next Premier League game on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League. “The most important thing.” The first of City’s four remaining games. Such is Liverpool’s form, it is likely they will need to win all of them if they are to retain the Premier League title. This is the only trophy left now.
After travelling back from Madrid, the players have been given the day off. Not so for Guardiola. He is back at the training ground, addressing the media. There is no sense of a man in mourning, he even shares a joke or two. He is preparing for Newcastle.
There is a misconception about Guardiola. Those distant stares on the bench, the manic gestures on the touchline. A man who cares so deeply, invests so much, must surely be broken by defeat. It is not the way he sees it. It is the setbacks that forge him.
“What is life? Life is not always good moments,” he explains.
“In sport, especially, there are more bad moments than good moments.” And then comes a surprising admission. “I am so comfortable handling these type of situations. Sometimes I am more comfortable in that than when I am handling the success.”
There are those he leans on in such moments.
Manel Estiarte, Spain’s former Olympic water polo champion, is a constant. His presence on the technical staff has little to do with football and everything to do with psychology. He helps with player welfare but that is not the chief purpose of his role at City.
“Manel takes care of me, that is enough for him,” jokes Guardiola.
“He is a friend of mine for many, many years. For many, many. He was the best athlete in his sport. He has an incredible sense of what is happening in the team. Not about the tactics but what is happening in the team, what we need, what we are looking for.
“It helps me a lot, especially in the bad moments. We share our sadness. Our sorrow is always together. And, of course, in the good moments too. He has a role, an important role in the club. He is an incredible person for my family. For the club as well.”
Estiarte has had to earn his money this week. “Defeats are always full of feelings,” continues Guardiola. “With successes, you are mixed. Sometimes you could do better. The defeats, you feel it. And you have to feel it to make it better when the good moments come.”
He insists in the press conference that nothing was said to the players afterwards, something that he reaffirms here. “After the game, there are no words that can control or can handle the pain that you have with this result. You have to feel this pain.”
But speaking in a small room within City’s media suite, Guardiola acknowledges the noise that surrounded the result. Words were, in fact, spoken. “Today, everyone talks. That is why I said to the players, ‘Don’t read much, stay away from this and focus on yourselves.’
There has been criticism of Jack Grealish, the £100m signing who twice went close to confirming City’s place in the final before the chaos engulfed his team. Guardiola rejects that out of hand. “Jack was brilliant when he came in and was unlucky with the situations.”
There has been criticism of him too, of course. This latest defeat means by the time of next year’s Champions League final it will have been a dozen years since he last lifted European club football’s biggest prize. But he makes an impassioned defence of his record.
“The situations come the way they come. Respect it. What you have to do is just put on the table who we are and what we have done in these two games. What we have done in the Premier League, what we have done in the Champions League.
“Last season, we lost the Champions League. It was 13 games. We won 11, drew one and lost one. If we lost the Champions League, was it a bad Champions League season? Absolutely not. This season we were in the Champions League semi-final again.
“We want to win the Champions League, of course. But when they called me they did not tell me we had to win the Champions League. Not even the Premier League.
“They said they wanted to be competitors in all the competitions until the end, to be a team that for our fans is nice to watch and wins as many games as we can in all competitions. That is why they knocked on my door to come here. And we did it.
“There is no doubt, in all competitions, we did it. The people who play against us know, they are good. They run, they fight and they bring their opponent to the limit.
“This is when you become a solid club. A club you can rely on. For sponsors, fans, people who want to follow us when they switch on the TV and want to watch Man City. The honesty of these players and this team has been quite remarkable for many years.”
In what some will see as a trademark contrarian view, Guardiola describes the performance in Madrid as one of his proudest moments. “The way we compete, the way we behave.” But perhaps the biggest test will come this weekend and in the two that follow it.
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe says he does not know how City’s defeat will affect them psychologically. Guardiola cannot see the future either. But he knows his players. “I know we are going to play like who we are, we are going to move on,” he says.
“It is just two weeks until the end of the season and we have four games in front of us, three in a short space of time. We are going to face the most important week of the season in the Premier League.
“We don’t have the margin.
“The first is Newcastle and we are going for it.”