Pep Guardiola must learn from a frustrating week for Man City fans

The best thing that Pep Guardiola can probably do for Manchester City fans in future is to follow Kevin Parker’s advice and keep schtum about them.

Even if the manager is frustrated about how his words were interpreted, the upshot is that he should know better by now that ambiguous comments calling on more supporters to attend matches are only going to fuel the trolls who thrive on crudely simplifying the nuanced issue of empty seats in order to ridicule Blues.

When he first came to the Etihad and said after his first Champions League game in charge in 2016 that supporters should stop booing the anthem, it felt like a man who wasn’t quite at home with his surroundings. There have been several calls to arms for the supporters from Guardiola since – usually in the Champions League – but he has also pitched himself as the chief defender of the club from their critics on many occasions.

From tackling their unfair reputation as ludicrous spenders in the transfer market through taking on UEFA and the gang of Premier League clubs that tried to punish City over a matter they didn’t understand to the unpalatable European Super League, Guardiola has fired from the hip: “When there is something wrong, I will say it,” he said on Friday.

And as much as he deserves sympathy for having to be a club spokesperson twice a week and be asked questions on all manner of things he is no expert in, he himself explained that it comes with the job.

“When I don’t like something I say it. Here and privately. To my players. Because this is my job. This is what I get money for that. I have to take a decision every five minutes and I do it knowing in my head and my instinct what is the best for the club.”

The irony not seen by Guardiola is that the same applies, albeit on a much less pressurised scale, to a man that he repeatedly threw under the bus in his press conference. Anyone who has met the head of the official supporters club knows how much he loves the club, and often when others are losing their heads over a Guardiola decision you will find Kevin Parker defending a man who he is so grateful to for the success he has brought to the football club that he loves.

It pained him to criticise the club over the European Super League plan just as it can’t have been easy for Guardiola to slag off a friend and colleague over it.

And however much the manager may share an affinity to the fans, his number one focus has to be getting results from the group of players that he manages. To do this, he is an agitator. That’s why needs to shake his squad up to keep winning, and why as his players celebrated their fourth goal against RB Leipzig in midweek he was more interesting in swearing at Riyad Mahrez.

The problem with applying that same thinking to City supporters is that they are poked enough in the media and on the internet for them to respond positively to being challenged like that – especially by somebody who is supposed to be on their side. Having defended the club so well on so many occasions, in this instance Guardiola has inadvertently fed the hyenas.

It’s nowhere near big enough for ultimatums of walking away if the fans aren’t happy to be taken seriously. Supporters will turn up on Saturday as they were always going to and once again enjoy the standard of football that the manager has drawn out of his players – but there won’t be any real change.

As somebody who is basically unsackable at the Etihad and who has spoken out against the club’s intentions before, Guardiola has the freedom and platform to question increasing ticket prices or understand fan frustration around empty seats debates. But when invited to do just that on Friday in the second part of the press conference, the response was lukewarm at best compared to the blistering speeches he can deliver when something really gets him going.

That’s fine, but if the appetite for addressing the root causes of the issue aren’t there, casually bringing it up can – as seen this week – sometimes do more harm than good.

Ultimately, both Guardiola and Parker want what is best for City, and should continue to speak out when they think things are wrong. And, given how multi-layered and historic the conversation around Etihad attendances is, it is not a terrible idea – indeed, it would make his life easier – if the manager generally left any discussions or noise on that to others and focuses on what he does best.

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