There was a fiery exchange In the locker room after losing to Tottenham, several of his senior players complained that he was too inconsistent with his team selections, complaints that went beyond chasing the substitutes and fringe players in the background.
It intensified in the summer when City was outwitted by Lyon in the Champions League. When the investigation hit the news media, it turned out that there were some in the squad who were beginning to waver in their loyalty to their coach and who felt they were in the competition after which he was more than anyone else longs to have shot in the foot time too many.
Guardiola seemed to recognize it. After all, he always said that after four years either the players or the manager have to change. He was hoping for the former and asked City to bring in four new signings. Only three came in the end: the club stepped out of a contract to sign Ben Chilwell from Leicester and the left-back that Guardiola called on never materialized.
It didn’t seem to solve the problem immediately. City lost to Leicester at home, connecting Leeds, West Ham and Liverpool and then losing to Spurs. This was the final straw for Fernandinho, the club’s influential captain who put together the squad – “just the players, I’ve tried to show them our responsibility, what the club expects, what the fans expect” – for some tough truths .
Guardiola herself waited a few more weeks. After a discouraging home draw with relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion in December, he held a conclave with his key collaborators: Juanma Lillo, his assistant; Rodolfo Borrell, his first team coach; Txiki Begiristain, City Football Director; and Manel Estiarte, Guardiola’s all-purpose advisor.
For the first time, he had watched his City team with dislike. “I didn’t like it,” he said later. Influenced in particular by Lillo, the decision was made to revert to what Guardiola called his “ABC” principles. “To stay in position and let the ball run, not you,” Guardiola said.
Of course, his reputation as a visionary dictates that the change was interpreted as a tactical innovation: Guardiola had instructed his team to run less or pass the ball more, or made João Cancelo the first fullback stroke no. 10, a position that hopefully one day will be known as the “false two”.