It is becoming increasingly clear that Pep Guardiola, for all his titles and trophies, for all his innovative tactical ideas and skinny ties, simply does not have what it takes to succeed as a manager in England.
On Wednesday night, Guardiola's Manchester City lost 1-0 away to Manchester United in the last 16 of the League Cup. While City's side was notably weaker than Manchester United's — including two players with squad numbers up in the 70s — they will have been disappointed not to have contrived a single shot on target against a team boasting a central defensive partnership of Daley Blind, arguably a left back, and Marcos Rojo, arguably a mascot.
But that's not the problem; these things happen. Of more concern for City will be the fact that this was their sixth game in a row without a win, a run that amounts to Guardiola's longest without a victory as a manager. That 4-0 loss to Barcelona can perhaps be waved away — those things happen, too — but the 3-3 draw against Celtic, the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham and the fact that it's now eight games since they kept a clean sheet demonstrate that something, somewhere isn't quite right. Probably at the back. Not a good sign, then, that Vincent Kompany could only manage 45 minutes and that Nicolas Otamendi rather went to pieces in his captain's absence.
Ultimately, though, that's not the problem either, however. What's been most damning is the manner in which Guardiola has responded to his side's stumbles. Though he cuts a remarkably animated figure on the touchline, it's his post-match interviews that are doing for him. Speaking after last night's defeat, he condemned himself with his own mouth:
I am so proud of our performance, congratulations to United, but I am so proud of our young players and how we played. We had our chances, two or three on the counter … At that level, it's when you are more clinical with the last pass, but it's always difficult against United. We competed well.
Or, for another example, here he is embarrassing himself after his goalkeeper, Claudio "Not Joe Hart, Not Even A Little Bit" Bravo, was sent off against Barcelona:
Sometimes there are mistakes and sometimes you have to kick the ball out, but most of the time, when we play good, it starts from there. Of course he knows what he did, but he has a lot of experience and he's one of best goalkeepers in last 10 years, so I don't have doubts about him.
It's deeply odd to see a manager — particularly one as reputedly intelligent as Guardiola — making such basic and elementary errors. But the absences from his approach are clear and stark. There's no castigation of officials, no dragging of his own players, and no sideswipes at unfriendly journalists. He has been even-handed to the point of inhumanity. When even a 3-3 draw with a team managed by Brendan Rodgers can come and go without muttered allusions to dark forces operating beyond the realm of the perceptible, you know something weird is happening.
Taking the wide view, it appears that Guardiola is flying in the face of all that makes English football the really loud, really very loud, really incredibly loud thing that it is. Why, it's almost as if he thinks that the job of managing a football club is one that should be judged in the medium- and long-term rather than the short-; that the most important thing is where Manchester City find themselves at the end of this season and those to come; and that the best way to get performances from his players is to back them and his own methods, in which he has absolute and justified faith.
This is obviously ludicrous, and arguably treasonous. Sure, they may tolerate this kind of thing in "the Bundesliga" or "Spain," where the press are honey-fed lambs and the fans spit nothing but flowers, but England is different. This skeptical isle demands managers that twist and writhe, squeal and grumble, mutter and cavort. Most of all, it demands managers that point the finger. Everything has to be somebody's fault. There's no shape to any of this otherwise. There's no arc, no hero or villain. There's just football matches happening, one and then a few days later another one, and a football team getting better or worse as time passes by. Where's the sport in that?
Perhaps he's just playing the long game, waiting for the right moment to strike. Does close scrutiny of these ostensibly calm interviews reveal a unusually twitchy eyebrow, an inappropriately flared nostril? Is there an inner Kevin Keegan bubbling away in there, seething and roiling, waiting for the right moment to strike? Maybe another couple of dodgy results will do the trick. City go to West Brom on Saturday, then host Barcelona on Tuesday, and there's no more provocative one-two punch in football than a swift Tony Pulis to the gut followed by a sharp Lionel Messi to the chin.
But unless that day comes, we may have to deal with the fact that Guardiola simply has no respect for how the business of football management should be conducted in England. Coming over to England and winning football games is one thing. The nation is used to being made to look foolish by Europe. But coming over to England, losing them, drawing them, cocking them up ... and being all reasonable about it? It simply cannot be tolerated.