Pep Guardiola admits he does not know if Manchester City can win the Champions League as his side are still in the “process of growing”. They face Feyenoord in their Group F opener at Rotterdam’s De Kuip on Wednesday night.
The manager’s view may cause some surprise as he has just overseen £226m being spent in the transfer window and City’s squad cost £775m to assemble in total, the most expensive ever.
Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Ederson, Danilo and Kyle Walker arrived during the summer. Guardiola can also call on Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Fernandinho, Nicolás Otamendi and Yaya Touré (though he has been left at home), who all played for City against Real Madrid in the 2016 semi-final.
Yet Guardiola said: “I don’t know if we are able to compete. We are still in the process of growing. I’m so happy with the players we have. We can do better than last season – but I don’t know. We’ll see. Last season we did good things, it wasn’t enough [City lost to Monaco in the round-of 16 on away goals]. But of course I am satisfied.
“I don’t know now if we’re able to compete for the titles because we’re in the process of growing. We are not dreaming – when you’re in that position [of having a chance] it’s better to be calm. When you arrive in the last stages you say the dream is close but now it’s still far away.”
Feyenoord are the Dutch champions after their head coach, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, guided the club to a first league title since 1999. While they are without the injured Nicolai Jorgensen, who was the league’s top scorer with 21 last season, Guardiola struck a cautious note.
“Why is this an easy start? Feyenoord have more titles [they won the European Cup in 1970] than Manchester City. History counts. We cannot deny English teams have more money, spend more money. I grew up loving the Holland culture, how they play. I was a lucky guy. I was a football player working with my idol Johan Cruyff [at Barcelona] and after that Louis van Gaal, a lot of Holland players in my team. I know how they play.
“We play our first game in the group stage. It’s a dream to be here again for a club like Manchester City. We fought a lot to be there to qualify. The gap was so close between us and Arsenal and Liverpool and Manchester United, so we fought a lot to be here. We start our road. It depends on our level. I know how complicated it is. Last season we did not win one game away. I know from my experience even in Barcelona and Bayern Munich how it is to qualify for the next stage. We made the semi-finals [at Bayern] but it was so tough.
“It doesn’t matter who we are playing, the famous teams or the lower teams. Hopefully, the players can enjoy being here. We are starting in a country that appreciates and loves football and we will try to do our best.”
Guardiola left Touré behind in Manchester and the Ivorian is yet to feature for City in their four games this season. The manager said the midfielder has been excluded for reasons of form.
“I spoke with him and he knows the reason why, but it’s between him and me. It’s a sportive decision,” Guardiola said. “He was so important last season. Six players finished their contract and he was the only one who stayed because he’s a special player. But the decision is he didn’t play the last game and today he is not in the squad, and he knows the reason why. He will play soon. It depends on the player. I’m always happy [with him] but I demand as much as possible. I want more, not just from Yaya – I want more from everyone.”
Guardiola will also be without Vincent Kompany, who has suffered his latest calf problem. The captain has been plagued with injuries in recent years yet the head coach has no doubts over his future. “We are taking care of him,” Guardiola said. “We’ll see about Vincent in the next weeks, but he’ll soon be fighting with his team-mates to play.”
In the 5-0 win against Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday, Ederson sustained a serious face injury, but the goalkeeper’s recovery has been so quick that he is in the match-day squad.
John Stones, who may line up alongside Otamendi and Danilo in a three-man defence, said: “Ederson has got on with it straightaway. After the game in the changing room he was speaking to the boys as if nothing had happened, which shows what character he has got.
“He just wants to be around the team, in that environment. I’ve personally not tried to ask him too much about it because I know everyone else will be. Everyone has seen his face, the stitches, the swelling, but he’s got on with it, put a scrum cap on, and he’s been training today.”
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