Pep Guardiola's exit riddle has capped a bleak week for Man City

IAN LADYMAN: Pep Guardiola’s exit riddle has capped a bleak week for Manchester City… missing out on Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo has left toothless champions on the outskirts of title challenge

  • Manchester City still do not have a reliable goalscorer to replace Sergio Aguero 
  • Neither Harry Kane nor Cristiano Ronaldo will play for the champions this season
  • Pep Guardiola said earlier this week that he will leave City in 2023 to take a break
  • Guardiola’s unclear stance has capped a bleak weak for the English champions 

Before the news broke of Manchester City’s decision not to prolong their brief interest in Cristiano Ronaldo, Pep Guardiola was contradictory on the matter.

On the one hand, Guardiola suggested that the world’s best players tend to go to whichever club they wish. 

On the other, he said he only liked players who would run for his team until they dropped. 

The news of Pep Guardiola potentially leaving Manchester City in 2023 has become a footnote

Cristiano Ronaldo’s agreement to join Manchester United has rocked the footballing world

There is no way Ronaldo fits into both of those sentences, but it was that kind of day at City and it has been that kind of week.

It started with City still hopeful Harry Kane would join them and ended with Guardiola suggesting on Friday that the England captain would see out his career at Tottenham.

In the midst of all that was a 24-hour tango with Ronaldo and his agent, Jorge Mendes, before Guardiola sat behind a microphone at the club’s training ground on Friday to row back on his own indications to a Brazilian business conference on Wednesday that he would leave City when his contract expires at the end of next season.

Harry Kane has decided to stay at Tottenham and made a goalscoring return to the starting XI

Guardiola has now reneged on claims he will leave City at the end of his contract for a break

Developments regarding Ronaldo this week have been extraordinary. Maybe that famous billboard on the way in to Manchester will be painted red after all. 

Whether City turned tail on Ronaldo or vice-versa is largely irrelevant. A move to United surely shifts them firmly to the fringes of the title race at a time when their neighbours do not actually have a reliable goalscorer to call upon at all.

Nevertheless, when the dust settles on all that and when the transfer window closes on Tuesday, it is the business of Guardiola’s future that may remain as the most important. Players come and go but managers such as Guardiola only pass your way once.

So what exactly are his intentions, he was asked on Friday. ‘I am so delighted to answer this,’ Guardiola said. 

‘I am not thinking to leave after two years. I can leave maybe in two months when the results are not good or the organisation is tired of me or I cannot handle the players better. I can leave in three months, like I can leave in five years.

‘What I said in my Zoom connection with the people with Brazil is after my period with Manchester City I will take a break, that is for sure.

Sergio Aguero’s departure now leaves the league champions without a regular goalscorer

United now have three reliable scorers as Ronaldo joins Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood

‘Right now I don’t have reasons to leave. I didn’t say after two years I will finish my period in Manchester City.’ 

The problem for Guardiola — and indeed for City and their playing squad — is that is exactly what he did say in midweek. 

The exact quote given to ESPN Brazil was: ‘After seven years in this team I think I will take a break.’

When his own words were presented to him on Friday, he did not waver from his slightly altered script. ‘I have explained the answer,’ he stressed. 

‘I will say that seven is many years but I explained it. Maybe my English is not perfect. But I repeat the answer. I don’t know what will happen.’

Whether City’s supporters and players choose to take Guardiola at face value after Friday’s exchanges is largely immaterial. 

City’s biggest issue though is how to replace Guardiola – despite their recent transfer woes

The issue of the 50-year-old’s exit is now one that will follow him through this season and into the next.

As far as this one is concerned, it appears the challenge just grew harder. On Friday Guardiola suggested his team must improve on last season’s title-winning efforts by playing better, defending more securely and being better at set pieces. 

He said he would ‘find solutions’ from within his squad to the puzzle of operating without a true number nine, adding that his players must supplement this by running ‘like it’s the last minute of their life’. That is some departure from efforts to buy Kane.

In terms of talk of effort, such an intense way of playing has long been part of the Guardiola creed and it was hard to see Ronaldo fitting in to that. 

Nevertheless, ahead of Saturday’s game with Arsenal, City are not where they would have wished to be in terms of their buying and selling.

Kane is not coming and neither is Ronaldo. As for Guardiola, despite his protestations, he does appear to be approaching his last couple of laps at the Etihad and that will present City with a recruitment issue much more significant than anything that has passed their way over the last seven days.

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