THEY say the greatest champions are the ones who get off the canvas — and Pep Guardiola certainly took one hell of a punch this week.
It means that Sunday’s game against Newcastle, which looks an absolute home banker, has suddenly become arguably the toughest test of his managerial life.
Never mind Manchester City chasing a fourth title in five years, nor the fact they are one of the top two teams in the world.
None of that matters after the way they went out of the Champions League — and Guardiola has a heck of a job to raise the whole club.
I do mean the whole club as well. Not just the players but his staff, the tea ladies, the kitman, everyone.
He’s got to lift himself, too, and as boss there’s no one to help on that one.
Forget what Liverpool do, the big problem facing Pep and City is how losing to Real Madrid impacts them for the next four games.
When you go out the way they did, it takes a lot to recover.
But Pep has to get them back on track straight away, or the league could slip away as well now.
That journey back from Spain will have been horrible.
His head must have been all over the place.
You’re thinking, ‘What could I have done differently, what did I do wrong?’
The ironic thing is, for 90 minutes, City played pretty much the perfect game.
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To stop Real from having a single shot on target at home is unbelievable.
If Thibaut Courtois’ studs had been half an inch shorter, Jack Grealish would have scored a second — and City would be looking forward to a final against Liverpool.
That’s how fine the margins are. Never mind Carlo Ancelotti saying he always thought Real could get back into it.
If you’re two down going into injury time, you know you’re done. Just like Pep, for all that his face certainly dropped when they held up the board showing six more minutes, will have believed City were through.
When it goes belly up from there, it’s the worst feeling ever, just beyond belief — and he’s going to have to earn his corn to recover from that.
You’ve gone from jabbing your opponent on the nose to being down for a count of eight and feeling as groggy as hell when you get back up.
I KNOW THE FEELING
I know that feeling, believe me I do. It wasn’t a Champions League semi-final but the awful, sickening, churning in your stomach is the same.
When I was Southampton manager and we were at the bottom of the table, we were two up against Middlesbrough with a couple of minutes left.
I was going to make a sub but decided to wait a second as they had a corner.
Our centre-back headed it into our net, they got another from the kick-off and we drew 2-2. It was the same when we played Everton.
In front after 90 minutes, when Peter Crouch crossed instead of keeping it in the corner, they went upfield and scored with the last kick.
The time it took us to recover from those two results cost us dearly, because we ended up getting relegated.
Games like that never totally leave you.
I saw Andrea Pirlo in Turin this week and he told me even now he still doesn’t know how AC Milan lost that 2005 final to Liverpool after being 3-0 up at half-time.
It was 17 years ago but still eats away at him and Pep has had just over three days to lift his players before they play Newcastle.
City have had the wind sucked right out of them and somehow Guardiola has to get it back, while feeling absolutely gutted himself.
The one thing I will say is, that if anyone can do it, he’s the man. People on phone-ins saying he should go because City lost are idiots.
I heard someone saying they need to get a manager who can win the competition, they were forgetting Pep’s done that before — and that is just laughable.
Of course it was a dreadful way to lose but do they honestly think there’s anyone better than Pep?
No one I can see, that’s for sure. Right now Guardiola will be low, low, low — I can’t imagine he’s ever felt worse in his career.
If anyone can still get those players up off the floor, it’s Pep. But, right now, not even he could tell you for sure that he will manage it.