What is your favourite thing about the Premier League, Pep? Is it the intensity or is it the passion? The intense passion or the passionate intensity? Maybe it’s the intense intensity. Or maybe it’s the passionate passion. Maybe it’s both. Take your time. You don’t have to answer straight away. But you do love us, don’t you?
How could you not be moved and thrilled and even a little seduced by the musky no-nonsense masculinity of English football, where there are never any easy games and it’s so much more competitive and exciting than the craven trash they serve up in Spain and Germany. Validate us, Pep. Hold us, look into our eyes, tell us that we have the best league in the world.
Such was the tone of the questioning after Manchester City were held at home by Everton last Saturday, an entertaining 1-1 draw that took place while Barcelona were rinsing Deportivo La Coruña 4-0, offering definitive proof that La Liga is a league full of wastrels and flakes who are all too willing to roll over and have their tummies tickled. Imagine going to the Camp Nou and losing 4-0. What a bunch of losers.
However Guardiola, who has handed out several painful lessons to English clubs with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, refused to play along. “None of you have been in La Liga or the Bundesliga to know how intense it is,” he said. “You have to have respect for the other leagues and the way they play.”
The problem for Guardiola is trying to satisfy that neediness, that desire for the sophisticated, suave, garlanded foreign man to tell us how awesome the Premier League is, with its habit of serving up matches as chokingly dull as Red Monday’s Liverpool v Manchester United extravaganza.
Guardiola can cut a cold presence in his public appearances, his broken English often quite difficult to understand, his obsessive academic air making him somehow less approachable. Where’s his banter? Why won’t this tactics square give us any bantz? If the smartest kid in school won’t dance for the cameras, if he won’t soothe our insecurities and lavish praise on our moneyed league, then he needs to be taken down a notch or two. We don’t like experts in this country any more. We definitely don’t like foreign experts.
It has been possible to detect an undercurrent of resistance to Guardiola in England for a while, typified by that ludicrous suggestion that his hallowed Barcelona side would have struggled on a wet and windy Tuesday night at Stoke City, and it seeped out in the predictable reaction to Claudio Bravo’s admittedly hilarious red card on Wednesday night.
It was a dismal mistake. One Spanish newspaper gave Bravo one star and he has been a spreader of chaos since joining City from Barcelona in the summer, goofing on his debut against United and kicking poorly under pressure in the defeat at Tottenham, and there was irony in Joe Hart’s sweeper-keeper replacement conceding possession to Luis Suárez so meekly, the error compounded by the Chilean’s foolhardy decision to handle the ball outside the area.