Why Pep Guardiola should quit Manchester City if they win this season’s Premier League

Looking back at Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement 11 years ago, the curious thing was that his decision was both unexpected and also completely logical.

By 2013, Ferguson had achieved everything he could. He’d taken Manchester United to 20 league titles, then two clear of Liverpool. He’d got the better of each title rival United had encountered: Blackburn Rovers, then Newcastle United, then Arsenal, then Chelsea, then Manchester City. It was the right time, and yet no one had even stopped to consider that a 13-time, 71-year-old champion might call it a day.

And now, for English football’s most successful manager since Ferguson, it might be the right time to follow suit.

Should Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City win this season’s Premier League, there will be nothing left for Guardiola to achieve with City. That would be the club’s fourth straight league title — the first time any club in English league history has won four on the bounce. Huddersfield Town, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have all managed three. Four will be unique.

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Not even Alex Ferguson won four league titles in a row (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Winning four in a row would go alongside Guardiola’s other historic achievements in English football. He won the Premier League with a record points tally, 100. He won the country’s first-ever domestic treble. He won the second-ever ‘proper’ treble last season. He hasn’t simply won trophies but won them relentlessly and in unprecedented fashion. With one more title, Guardiola’s dominance of English football will effectively be complete.

What’s to be gained by staying on? A fifth in a row, sure, but that landmark isn’t as significant as becoming the first side to win four. A second European Cup would be welcome, certainly, but there’s more prestige in successfully retaining the cup — something only Real Madrid have done in the Champions League era. Real, of course, ended City’s dream in the quarter-finals last month.


In terms of Guardiola’s legacy, there are more risks from staying on. If Arsenal continue to be City’s main challenger next year and pips them to the title, there would be a certain dissatisfaction in Guardiola being beaten by his former assistant. On the other hand, if Guardiola were to resign, City were to fall away and Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal were to triumph, that would actually reflect well on his legacy.

And if someone else were to beat Guardiola to the title — incoming Liverpool boss Arne Slot, for example — then perhaps he would instantly look a little dated. Leave after triumphing this season, and he’s untouchable.

There are other aspects to consider, too. Beautiful football is a matter of taste — not everyone liked Guardiola’s possession-based approach even at Barcelona’s peak. But it’s generally agreed that Guardiola’s sides have typically played open, attractive football with lots of creative players. He attempted to take football in a different direction; more based on technical and tactical aspects.

In the past couple of seasons, though, to get over the line in the Champions League, he’s beefed up his side and often fields four centre-backs across the defence and a big battering ram up front. It’s not quite the futuristic football he was once renowned for. Five in a row, with an increasingly functional side, and we’re probably into the realms of tedium.

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Guardiola ended City’s chase for a Champions League title last season (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

And while Guardiola has expressed confidence that his club will be exonerated of the 115 charges levelled against them relating to alleged financial irregularities between 2009 and 2018, there must be a part of him that worries about the stress if City were to be found guilty. If that verdict arrives after he has departed, then it’s not really his problem.

Ferguson’s resignation in 2013 was, of course, actually his second announcement that he was to stand down. The first came midway through the season in 2001-02, when declaring he would leave United at the end of the season. He later admitted this was a mistake because it allowed his players to switch off. United’s form suffered, and as they looked set for a rare trophyless campaign, Ferguson reversed his decision and ended up staying another 11 years.

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Guardiola must look at Ferguson’s experience, and that of Jurgen Klopp — who made a similar announcement and is now enduring a rather sycophantic half-year-long farewell tour — and consider that a sudden announcement at the end of a season is the best approach. Comparable managers in English football have tended to go out at the top, including Ferguson and Bob Paisley, who retired after winning his sixth title with Liverpool.

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Both Klopp and Guardiola leaving would swiftly usher in a new era of English football (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

Guardiola has openly discussed his ambition to coach a national team in the future, and leaving this summer would afford him plenty of choice — and a two-year run-up, should he wish, to coach at World Cup 2026, primarily hosted by the U.S. Guardiola clearly has some disposition towards the U.S, having spent a sabbatical year in New York between coaching Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He would have his choice of any nation in the world this summer. But next summer, just one year out from the tournament, national associations might feel less inclined to make a change.

There are, of course, several reasons to stay. Guardiola clearly feels City is a less pressured environment than Barca or Bayern, and there are no obvious signs of the fatigue Klopp has felt in recent months. He and his family are happy living in Manchester. He is paid handsomely, and his club will start 2024-25 as favourites to win the title again. He might also be reluctant to leave his club without an obvious replacement — in a different world, Arteta might have remained as his assistant and be ready to succeed him, or his former captain Vincent Kompany might have fared better with Burnley and be the obvious replacement.

But even though Guardiola has a year remaining on his contract, few at City would begrudge him going out on his own terms. By this stage, Guardiola has seen it all, done it all, won it all. Managers seem to care about their legacy more than ever.

And if Guardiola cares about his, the smart move might be calling it quits now.


(Top photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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