Pep Guardiola will finally step out at Wigan Athletic’s DW Stadium in Manchester City’s fifth-round FA Cup tie with the third-tier side tonight (at 2:55am Cambodian time) – 13 years after he almost joined the Lancashire club as a player.
The Spanish midfielder was looking to extend his playing career, as a 34-year-old, in 2005 and contacted a number of Premier League clubs – including Wigan, then managed by Paul Jewell.
Barcelona legend Guardiola also held talks with City’s manager at the time, Stuart Pearce, but eventually accepted a more lucrative offer in Qatar before eventually moving to a Mexican club.
Now, as manager of a City team that is still aiming for silverware in four major competitions this season, Guardiola will experience a little of what he turned down in Wigan.
“Yeah, it was years ago,” said Guardiola. “But I was not good enough! That is the truth, yeah.
“I was old, really old, as a football player to come here. I tried to come here to play in English football but I was not able. The same happened when I came here to Manchester City, with Stuart Pearce. They were so clever!” he added.
“They were so clever because I was not good enough! Wigan were interested in me, I didn’t choose the club. It didn’t happen and that’s all.”
Jewell recalled the episode differently, claiming in a recent interview that he had made Guardiola an offer and expected him to sign, only to receive a phone call from the player’s agent to say he had received a “mindblowing” proposal from Qatar.
Wigan, of course, have fallen on hard times since that era and the heights of the 2013 FA Cup Final when they famously defeated City, then managed by Roberto Mancini.
Relegated that same season, Wigan now find themselves in League One, although they have already claimed the scalps of Premier League sides Bournemouth and West Ham in their FA Cup run this season.
Bravo for Claudio
Despite the threat posed by Wigan, however, Guardiola is adamant that back-up goalkeeper Claudio Bravo will remain his first choice for domestic cup competitions.
And that guarantee seems to assure the Chilean of starting for City in this coming Sunday’s League Cup Final meeting with Arsenal – Premier League leaders City’s first opportunity to secure one of the four trophies they are currently chasing.
“He’s going to play, Claudio,” said Guardiola. “We are in the Carabao [League] Cup Final thanks to him. So I cannot forget what happened – he saved two rounds of penalties, and the way he played, the safest, in the Carabao Cup.
“That is the decision this season. The other [competitions], we will see. The goalkeeper’s a different position to the other 10 teammates but, you know, it all depends on the performance and the quality, but in this competition Claudio is going to play.”
The 34-year-old Chilean lost his first-team place last summer when Guardiola signed young Brazilian Ederson, who has been in inspired form this season.
Bravo has not started a single Premier League game in the current campaign although his manager insists his selection as ‘cup keeper’ is not simply in order to keep him satisfied.
“I don’t do that to keep him happy,” said Guardiola. “It’s because in the top clubs we need two good goalkeepers, so you cannot survive with just one goalkeeper – if he is injured, suspended, something like that, and the other one doesn’t have the level.
“So all the big clubs who play a lot of competitions have two good goalkeepers – and we have.
“His reaction has been perfect. I know for the players, not just Claudio, when they don’t play regularly, it’s not an easy situation.”