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11th Dec 2015

JOE talks Guardiola, Wenger and Mourinho with European football experts

Kevin Beirne

The Champions League group stages are in the books, and there were a few surprises along the way.

Arsenal managed to turn things around despite losing their opening games against Olympiakos and Dynamo Zagreb, but Manchester United weren’t so lucky as they crashed out despite a seemingly easy group.

Chelsea and Manchester City both topped their groups, even with a few scares along the way for Jose Mourinho’s side.

JOE sat down with the European football experts on BT Sport’s European Football Show – Rafa Honigstein, James Horcastle and Julien Laurens – to talk about the season so far and the perception of English football abroad.

goals show

There’s a lot of talk about Guardiola coming to Man City. Do you think City could draw him away from a team like Munich where it’s a lot more comfortable?

Honigstein: It’s very hard to understand what’s going on in his head while he’s making this decision. I think Bayern are working under the assumption that he is off. They have to. A coach who doesn’t renew his contract when it’s been more or less on the table for six months – chances are he’s going to tell you he’s off.

But maybe he himself hasn’t figured out what he wants to do. At Barcelona he took forever to renew his contract, twice. Maybe he’s getting signals from other clubs: ‘wait another year and maybe a job is available for you’ so it could actually work for him to stay for another year at Bayern.


Do you think he’s holding out for a particular club?

Honigstein: No, I don’t think so. I honestly don’t know what he wants to do. I think that City are pushing very, very hard. They pushed last year already. Obviously, he has connections there. I think that people from City feel confident that they can get him but I’m not 100% convinced that is not just him being nice to them.

Or they are perhaps overplaying the situation because they are under pressure from the owners to reel him in. He’s been a target for so long. Maybe they’re just saying ‘Yeah, we’re going to get him’. So I honestly am not sure.

If he doesn’t renew his contract, I personally think the most likely thing for him is to take another year out. But I honestly don’t know.

So who do you think is more likely to see in the Premier League next season: Guardiola or Mourinho?

Horncastle: The Champions League has always had a bearing on the decision-making of Roman Abramovich. It’s the competition by which he’s chosen to define Chelsea. Look at the fates of other managers.

Honigstein: Di Matteo!

Horncastle: But Mourinho, the first time he left after Rosenburg, different circumstances. Andre Villas-Boas was after Napoli. Roberto Di Matteo after Juventus. These are delicate times.

Laurens: It would be great for the Premier League to have Guardiola and keep Mourinho as well. If Carlo Ancelotti could come back somewhere as well. With Klopp as well and Wenger and Van Gaal, at least the biggest names of the managers would be there which I think is always special. Because the Premier League cannot attract the best players in the world anymore but it still seems to attract the best managers. It’s an interesting dynamic.


Klopp has started off very well at Liverpool. But do you think he knows what he’s getting himself in for with English fans versus the loyalty he seemed to have at Dortmund?

Honigstein: I think it’s surprised him a little bit that it’s quiet and people leaving early. The stadium – okay it’s being rebuilt – but it is a bit smaller, it feels a bit old and it doesn’t have a lot of atmosphere. But I think he is the sort of guy who will work with the club on improving that, maybe putting some things in place that makes it easier for fans to create an atmosphere.

I know that he is being involved in everything at the club, including how the new stadium stand will work – what they’re putting in, how it’s being designed etc., the new training centre, he’s involved in the whole thing. And I think he’ll try to push as many little buttons to try and give Liverpool a chance to succeed in every single way.

We’ve already seen signs of progress, and that’s the most important thing to get a sense that things are moving in the right direction. You don’t necessarily go from mid-table to top team, but there is a sense that you’re going in the right direction and I think that’s given everybody a huge lift and optimism around the club. And the atmosphere now is completely different than it was a few months ago.

Laurens: I don’t know if you’ve been to Dortmund before, but it’s hard to beat. It’s not just Liverpool, I think that apart from maybe some very hostile Turkish fans at Besiktas or somewhere, it’s hard to beat. It’s not so much a criticism of what Liverpool fans are doing or not doing, it’s more that from where he was coming from, it was always going to be very difficult to beat it or even level what his experience was at Dortmund because it was very special.

Horncastle: I also think Klopp has been clever in how he has approached that. He’s saying: ‘It’s up to us to bring the fans back. It’s up to us to excite them with how we play.’ Because you can understand why sometimes Anfield is quiet, because the team hasn’t been competitive, hasn’t been performing to the standard of the club’s history and tradition.

And it’s not competing in the competition which Liverpool has defined itself by, which is the European Cup and the Champions League. Anfield on a European night is one of the best atmospheres in world football. It’s legendary atmosphere.

You think back to the Chelsea games of the mid-2000s. The Saint-Etienne game in the 70s. These are benchmarks for atmospheres. I think that’s a job that he’s relishing taking on. Creating that, as Rafa said, emotional connection between himself and the fans and the team and the fans again.

Klopp Kazan

If, two years down the line, results start to turn a bit sour and the fans turn on him a little bit – that’s not something he’s ever been through. Do you think he’ll be able to handle that?

Horncastle: I think in some respects he’s helped by the club he’s gone to. Liverpool is a club which is fiercely loyal to its managers. There was the cult of the football manager at that club, moreso than I think at many others.

They put up with Rodgers and some of the stuff that he came out with for a long time, relatively speaking in modern terms. Again, another thing Klopp said was that it’s about turning people into believers. I think to some extent he’s already done that. People have already bought into him. They’re a demanding fanbase but they’re an understanding fanbase as well.

It’s hard to gauge how Arsene Wenger is viewed abroad. Is different to how it is in the UK? Do you think people’s opinion of him would have changed if Arsenal were knocked out on Wednesday?

Honigstein: I don’t think it would necessarily change. I think it’s hard to generalise to that extent, but my sense is that in Germany people look at Arsenal, have always looked at Arsenal, as a side that play wonderful football, are great to watch but ultimately are a bit soft and don’t win anything.

It’s been 11 years now since they won a meaningful trophy and they haven’t done it in Europe, which I think is a real indictment. If you take part so many times and don’t regularly get into the quarter-finals I think something is quite wrong.

So I think there is respect for him. He’s seen as kind of a sage of football and he’s a gentleman, he speaks perfect German. People are fascinated by him to a certain extent, but I think they’re a little ambivalent about his team. I can only talk about Germany. Germans appreciate teams that play well, but they’re more interested by teams that win.

 during the UEFA Champions League match between Arsenal FC and GNK Dinamo Zagreb at Emirates Stadium on November 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Laurens: I’m French, so for us he is an icon. Even if he is not winning much lately, I think people in France will always respect him and will always admire him for everything that he’s done. So for us, it’s a bit different.

Horncastle: I think there’s a reverence for him. He’s seen as an anomaly, like Ferguson, for his longevity. But I think there is a frustration with Arsenal. The reaction to the Monaco game last season – it was tactical suicide. To some extent, he was too principled. For a country like Italy where you are pragmatic, you do whatever it takes to win a game, Wenger stands for something else.

Is this the year Man City finally kick on and establish themselves in Europe?

Laurens: I think topping the group finally is a big improvement. Although they’ll have to do better at home and concede less goals. Defensively, I’m not sure they’re ready for anything great in the Champions League.

All the greatest teams, even Barcelona last season and the year before, have always been strong defensively. Juventus last year had wonderful players going forward and in midfield, but defensively their back three was incredible. Until they get stronger defensively, I can’t see them going anywhere near the semi-finals.

Because come the quarter-finals, when you get a big team against them, they’re going to get found out, basically. They’re improving. You can see that. They’re getting a lot of experience and the way they approach games is different. Even Pellegrini himself, the substitutions he made on Tuesday night were decisive – bringing Navas and Bony on when it was 1-1 just turned the game around.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08: Wilfred Bony of Manchester City celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on December 8, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

And we were saying about how Van Gaal’s coaching was terrible, Pellegrini’s coaching was actually brilliant. So I think he and the team are actually learning a lot and you can see how together they are becoming in those big European nights.

But it’s another competition now. It’s a brand new competition for them in the last 16. I just feel that defensively, and if Aguero is missing, they might struggle.

You can watch Rafa Honigstein, James Richardson and other guests on the European Football Show on BT Sport every Sunday evening.