Manchester City, Chapter 5: Bravo! Just don't compare us to Barcelona
Making his debut for Manchester City in their all-important victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford back in September was Claudio Bravo, the man Pep Guardiola had headhunted as his new goalkeeper after choosing to demote stalwart Joe Hart.
The England No.1 probably didn’t know it at the time – like all of those who had featured at Euro 2016, he was still on holiday – but the seeds of his demise were sown on the very first day of pre-season.
Guardiola called me and said he believed in me and it filled me with excitement to be part of this project
That day, Pep set up a session with his new squad.
He stationed Willy Caballero in one goal and Republic of Ireland under-21 goalkeeper Ian Lawlor in the other. Then he passed the ball to one or the other and instructed them to play the ball out from the back.
It was an exercise for the outfield players as much as the keepers: this was how Guardiola intended to play and he was showing his squad how to make it work.
“Byline, Fernando! Byline!” he shouted, instructing the Brazilian to drop all the way back to the goal-line to make himself available for a pass. Caballero clearly impressed more than Hart ever did in such sessions, because the veteran Argentine was chosen to start the new season in goal. Soon, Hart went to Torino on loan and Bravo joined from Barcelona.
“Guardiola called me and said he believed in me and it filled me with excitement to be part of this project,” Bravo explains to FourFourTwo.
The 33-year-old had never worked with the Manchester City boss before – he joined the Catalan club from Real Sociedad two years after Pep had left – but the pull was strong enough to convince him to give up his role at the Camp Nou and move to England.
“When he shows such confidence in you that he is personally requesting your signing, it’s difficult to say no,” the Chile keeper adds. “Logically, Manchester City is more attractive to players with Guardiola in charge, for the style and philosophy he brings.
"He has changed the team’s dynamic. He gives this football club something extra every day – something you can’t quite define.”
With a former Barcelona manager, a former Barcelona goalkeeper, several ex-Barcelona backroom staff members and three former Barcelona men in senior positions in the club hierarchy, it’s inevitable that some will compare Manchester City with the club where so many of their employees used to work.
Logically, Manchester City is more attractive to players with Guardiola in charge, for the style and philosophy he brings
For their part, City are keen to point out that they are not trying to copy what Barça have done, but to forge their own identity. Bravo, too, is reluctant to compare the two clubs.
“From a footballing perspective there are certainly similarities, but I don’t want to make comparisons between the teams,” the keeper says. “Each club has their way of preparing for a game; each team has different players.
"We have confidence in what we’re doing and we think success will come. The whole world knows what Barcelona means – the players that have played there over the years are incredible and I will be forever grateful to them.
"But this club is on the up. You can see it in every game. We have great players in every position and we can only grow and improve, especially with the incredible coach we have. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”
Bravo speaks in such upbeat tones, despite the undoubted pressure facing him in replacing Hart, a goalkeeper loved by City’s fans having made nearly 350 appearance across a decade with the club.
“At this level you’ve got to live with pressure,” Bravo says. “If you don’t deal well with pressure, it would impossible to play for either Barcelona or Manchester City, to play for your country or to win titles.
"You just can’t think about who might have been playing in goal before you – you just have to find a way of performing at the highest level.
“I just try to do the best I can in whatever way I can, playing out from the back, constantly talking to my defence ... modern football now requires a goalkeeper who can give the ball to the feet of the centre-backs, not clear it at the first sign of danger.
"I touch the ball with my feet about 40 times in each game – that begins the dynamic of how we want to play. We don’t have the players upfront to play long ball and nor did we at Barcelona, so you play to suit your style.
That was a special game. We knew that it was a match of enormous magnitude and we were very happy to win
We want the ball to go forwards in a clean way, from back to front.”
Things didn’t run smoothly for Bravo on his debut at Old Trafford. Though City triumphed, a dropped cross allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score. Guardiola’s reaction was telling. After the game, he called Bravo’s display “one of the best performances I have ever seen”, pointing out that the keeper had started the move for Kevin De Bruyne’s goal by building out from the back. He was standing by his man.
“It’s very important when your coach talks positively about you like that,” says Bravo, who was once benched for a period by Chris Coleman during the Welsh manager’s six-month stint in charge of Real Sociedad.
“It supports you, even though you know you’ve made a mistake by colliding with a player and conceding a goal.
“But that was a special game. We knew that it was a match of enormous magnitude and we were very happy to win, but what meant more was the way we did it.
"We want our identity to be publicly known – to dominate the ball for as many minutes as possible. That day was all about fully establishing our identity.”