When you are able to engage a company of private detectives to ensure that your players, once training is over, follow a rhythm of life adapted to the very high level, it is because you attach importance to somewhat singular to their life off the pitch. Pep Guardiola is a manager of this caliber, for whom pure talent, however exceptional it may be, counts for almost nothing if it does not push those who possess it to hone it as finely as possible.
The requirement that we know from the Catalan has often earned him to maintain tumultuous relations with his players, always ready to protect them if they behave well, but just as quick to sting them publicly as soon as, according to him, they deserve it. The latest illustration of this dates back to last weekend, after the crushing victory against Chelsea in the FA Cup (4-0), when in a press conference, Guardiola was asked a question about Riyad Mahrez, the man highlight of the evening, author of a sumptuous free kick and a penalty.
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“Maybe Riyadh’s problem is to recover from summer time, once back from vacation and not from the World Cupbegan the manager of the Citizens, a small smirk on the lips. But its quality is amazing. He loves to play football, he helped us settle the match. With him, anything can happen. If he was sitting next I would tell him to always train and play like he is now.”
“When he plays like that and he complains about not playing enough, he’s right to complaininsisted the Skyblues technician. I would tell him that he deserves to play, but that I made another choice. But before, he couldn’t complain because he wasn’t playing at his current level. Sometimes I have to let them look in the mirror. In a long career, there are ups and downs. It’s not about quality, but in football there is more, you have to do morehe concluded. And since we resumed after the World Cup, Riyadh has been playing very well.“
What to take away from all this? The most obvious, first: when Riyad Mahrez is in good shape, he brings light to Manchester. He’s shown it since the World Cup resumed, sweeping past Chelsea in a double-header that he splashed with class, scoring against Liverpool in the League Cup and providing an assist for Erling Haaland in championship against Everton, on one of these dribbles which are the prerogative of the big ones since we may know them by heart, they always pass.
Moreover, after four and a half seasons with the sky blue jersey, the Algerian has melted into the Mancunian mould. His role as a returning winger, endowed with almost unrivaled qualities of percussion, does a world of good to a team which can sometimes give the impression of breaking its teeth, when it is measured against a solid defense.
Moreover, when the big Champions League posters arrive in the spring, it is often aligned; and responds just as often present. Parisian fans will remember his three goals in the semi-finals against PSG in 2020-2021; his goal at the Bernabéu last year at the same stage of the competition, in any other galaxy, would have allowed the Skyblues to rejoin the last European echelon.
But in this case, why does the Algerian not chain the meetings? Why has he only started nine Premier League games this season? This brings us back to the recent statement of his coach, which we do not know very well by reading it to whom it is addressed. Or rather if, we know full well that it is addressed to the player, before being intended for the media. Because for the obsessed with invisible work that is Guardiola, the nonchalance that sometimes characterizes Riyad Mahrez is too little worthy of a player of his level.
A reproach that the Catalan has made to his winger for as long as they have been together, and whose recurrence testifies above all to the desire of the coach to see his player finally pass a course up there, under the cap, since ball in the foot, Riyad Mahrez no longer has any to cross. “He needs to come back in better physical shape. The rest, I can’t teach him anything, he’s too good“, explained in these terms Guardiola last October.
This is how for him, Riyad Mahrez arouses both fascination and annoyance in a primary way. This is also why despite his quality, the Algerian may still seem confined to a role of rotation player, or impact player, factor X, in short, everything that a potential holder is not.
A position which however does not seem to bother the native of Sarcelles unduly: evidenced by his post-match reaction against Chelsea on January 5, a match which he had not started against all odds, and which he had unlocked on entering half an hour from the end. “You know the coach, he tried something“, was kindly content to let go of the Algerian, a slight smile.
This is also why Riyad Mahrez is precious; because despite the sloshing he is subject to with Pep Guardiola, he never stepped up against him. The Algerian, who will be 32 on February 21, has even expressed several times the pleasure he had to evolve under his orders, and confessed last September his desire to end his career at Manchester City. In the meantime, the guy will perhaps deserve that we summon a better memory, about him, than that of an especially talented player; and it is not Pep Guardiola who would be angry.
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