Pep Guardiola’s criticism of Manchester City fans as risky as it was calculated | Manchester City

THE recently got into a show that I should have got into ages ago. It’s called Hot Ones, appears on YouTube and involves a guy called Sean Evans interviewing celebrities while they eat increasingly spicy chicken wings. It’s where the famous Paul Rudd’Hey, look at us’ gif originated from and is as excellent as it sounds.

In the most recent episode I saw, Evans interviewed Adam Richman, the former presenter of the equally excellent Man v. Food, and just before his nostrils were set on fire and unbearable heat swept through his throat and chest, Richman was asked by Evans what he felt the difference was between US and British football from a spectator point of view, having experienced both. “So the Jets-Dolphins is maybe like the Yankees-BoSox [Boston Red Sox], whereas Tottenham-Arsenal is more like Palestine-Israel,” Richman said. “It’s deeply tribal.”

A somewhat over-the-top statement but Richman is right in his assessment that football fans on this side of the Atlantic take being football fans very seriously. Ties run deep, as do emotions, and, as such, you have to be very sure of the ground you’re on before questioning someone’s loyalty and dedication to their team, unless of course your name is Pep Guardiola and you’ve got something to get off your chest, which was much the case for the Manchester City manager after his team’s 4-2 victory over Tottenham on Thursday. City won but they did not play well and Guardiola was fuming afterwards, with his players di lui but also with the supporters, many of whom booed the hosts after they found themselves 2-0 down at half-time. “They were silent for 45 minutes,” said Guardiola of those in attendance. “They booed because we were losing; maybe it’s the same as our team – they are so comfortable winning four Premier Leagues in five years.”

As attacks go it was as devastating as those City unleashed on Spurs in the second half and, as discussed in Sky’s post-match analysis, was almost certainly Guardiola’s way of galvanising all concerned at the club as they seek to chase down Arsenal in this most unexpectedly gripping of title races. As was also discussed on Sky, Guardiola’s criticism of City’s supporters is hardly going to wreck his relationship with them given everything he has achieved since arriving almost seven years ago. Equally, there can be little denying it has chipped that relationship, striking as it does at the heart of what it means to be a fan, namely that your backing for your club is unquestioned and unquestionable, even when you’ve booed a brilliant team on the back of one bad half. Yes it was ridiculous but, seriously Pep, never blast the punters, especially when they’ve turned out on a freezing Thursday night.

Jürgen Klopp alongside Alan Pardew during Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Anfield in November 2015. 'I felt pretty alone at this moment,' Klopp said after many home fans left prior to the final whistle
Jürgen Klopp alongside Alan Pardew during Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace at Anfield in November 2015. ‘I felt pretty alone at this moment,’ Klopp said after many home fans left prior to the final whistle. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

City fans will be stoic and insist what Guardiola said is a non-story, but they will be kidding themselves as much as everyone else because being criticized by your manager hurts, whoever you support, and it is especially an issue for them given the stick they have taken from rival supporters over a perceived less-than-enthusiastic filling of the Etihad Stadium for even the most glamorous of games. “Emptyhad” has been the taunt and now those same pisstakers have something else to throw at those who follow the champions.

And this sort of thing really does stick. For proof you only have to look at what happened after Sir Alex Ferguson criticized Manchester United fans for a lack of backing during the team’s 1-0 victory over Birmingham City at Old Trafford in January 2008. “That was the quietest I have heard the crowd,” said the then manager. “It was like a funeral out there.” Cue Liverpool supporters chanting “Fergie’s right, your fans are shite” the next time their team took on United, and it has continued to this day. You can put money on the jibe by being updated to “Pep is right, your fans are shite” when Liverpool visit the Eithad Stadium in April and being sung by the away section at regular intervals of that contest.

It should be remembered that Liverpool supporters had their loyalty and dedication questioned by their own manager not long ago. “I felt pretty alone at this moment,” said Jürgen Klopp after witnessing Anfield emptying as soon as Crystal Palace had scored an 82nd-minute winner there in November 2015. He had just taken over as manager and it was a gamble that quite easily could have backfired, but it didn’t because of how willing the fans were to get on board with the German’s attempts to breath fresh life into their ailing team, with attempts by opposition supporters to mock Kopites over what Klopp had said about them pretty much neutered by the fervor that gripped them as he went about his work.

And it could be the case that what Guardiola said on Thursday sparks a surge of raucousness and commitment to the cause in City fans, starting with Wolves’ visit on Sunday. That would be exactly what he wanted. Nevertheless, it remains a risk for any manager to criticize the supporters – take Frank Lampard’s deteriorating relationship with the Goodison faithful as evidence of that – and, in general, is one of those things that lasts, that you can never take back, that cannot help but sting a seriously serious group of sport watchers.

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