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You can tell the season’s business end is looming when managers’ excuses start getting weird. A banner weekend in that respect, with poor performances blamed on everything from the time it takes to travel from one place to another to goals which should not have stood because teams were not attacking enough.
We can all get on board with an attack on the nation’s crumbling rail infrastructure, but that did not seem to be the overriding thrust of Pep Guardiola’s whinge following Manchester City’s defeat to Tottenham. “Coming to London is like going to the north of Europe,” he said, correctly confirming that a place in the north of Europe is like the north of Europe, a modern spin on Ian Rush’s apocryphal “Italy is like a foreign country.”
“It’s four hours twenty minutes to get to a hotel,” continued Guardiola. “It’s so exhausting coming to London, I’m sorry.” Leaving aside the not-particularly gruelling trip he is complaining about, here is clear evidence that Guardiola has finally become a true northerner. He sounds like every disappointed day-tripper who takes one look at the capital, its knife crime statistics, its white-collar money laundering and its £6 Pret sandwiches and decide they’ve seen enough.
Meanwhile, a few hours up the motorway (or about six days if travelling by train) in Wolverhampton, Jürgen Klopp said “there was no excuse” for his team giving up a swift 2-0 deficit to Wolves. “A horrible start, two goals which cannot happen,” said Liverpoool’s manager. “We are 2-0 down from our own fault. Both goals we should have defended better. There’s no excuse for it.”
Credible honesty, and further good news for any Liverpool fans lamenting another three goals conceded away from home: Wolves’s third did not count. “The third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half,” said Klopp, an intriguing new wrinkle to the laws of the game, hope the appropriate paperwork has been signed off by Gianni Infantino.
Nathan Jones, increasingly looking like the dictionary definition of “beleaguered,” had this after Southampton’s latest defeat at Brentford: “I’ve compromised in terms of certain principles because of one personnel, but two the way people want to play, and so on.
“I’ve compromised because of fans. But no more. I’ve been very successful playing a real fluid style. Luton were a real aggressive front-footed style, statistically there weren’t many better than me around Europe… I’ve had to compromise certain things and I won’t do that again.”
No further detail on what form these compromises have taken, or what fans are demanding which Jones feels he has to bend to provide. Goals? Wins? Competence? Still, good to look within when searching for answers rather than seeking to blame outside forces.
We are some way short of Sir Alex Ferguson ascribing a poor performance to his team’s grey away kit, surely the Sistine Chapel of managerial excuses. This from the same manager who claimed Robin van Persie “could have been killed” by Ashley Williams kicking a ball at him from close range in 2012. Master of mind games he might have been, but like so many other Ferguson’s true nature emerged after games rather than before, with pre-game press conferences the setting for surgical barbs designed to get under an rival’s skin.
Who knows, perhaps Pep’s travel woe, Klopp’s non-canonical goals and Jones’s generalised descent are all psychological four-dimensional chess being played perfectly. If they were supposed to deflect attention they have not succeeded. None of their teams have escaped criticism this Monday. There can only be one response: more ridiculous excuses.
It has been a while since a good old-fashioned uproar about an over or under-inflated ball. What about adverse weather, whatever happened to that meddlesome Icelandic volcano? And perhaps the Prince Harry defence can be invoked, that upset managers’ feelings are just as important as “so-called objective facts”? Plenty of season left to really nail this.