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20th Sep 2016

How Pep Guardiola played the perfect tactical game in his spat with Yaya Toure’s agent

There was only one winner in the battle between manager and agent

Tony Barrett

Not since he oversaw the 6-2 annihilation of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu seven years ago has Pep Guardiola enjoyed a more straightforward tactical victory.

The Manchester City manager’s adversary this time, Dimitri Seluk, might have thought that he was putting up a fight, that he was acting in the best interests of his client, Yaya Touré, but the reality was that he walked into the trap that Guardiola had set for him.

It isn’t supposed to be this easy when managers and agents collide.

Usually there is a battle by briefings as conflicting views of the same situation are allowed to leak into the public domain in an attempt for either side to win the moral high ground.

Guardiola, though, prides himself in always knowing his opponents, being able to think like they think and being able to come up with a plan to undermine them. And in the case of Seluk he knew, like everyone else, that this was one combatant who could be defeated by drawing him into the open.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City reacts on the sidelines during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The bait was easy enough. Explaining his decision to omit Touré from City’s Champions League squad, Guardiola initially focused on how hard such choices are but soon recognised the opportunity to call Seluk out.

“It was so difficult for me to leave him [Touré] out of the Champions League, so difficult. I know him and I know he’s a good guy. It was difficult as well for Alexi Garcia,” he said.

“But the day after his agent [Seluk] spoke and in that moment Yaya is out.

“Unless Mr Dmitri Seluk comes back in the press conference or (speaks to) his friends in the media – because he has not the courage to call me – go to the media and say he apologises to Manchester City, firstly, secondly to his team-mates and after the trainer.

“When that happens Yaya will be part of the group and he will have the same chance to play all the games. I cannot accept as a coach every agent when his player doesn’t play he goes to the media and speaks. I know how much Dimitri Seluk loves Yaya Touré. If he loves him, show me by apologising to Manchester City for what he did in the papers.

“I cannot imagine in my day when a player’s agent would go to the media and speak against Johan Cruyff. Maybe it’s the new era but I’m old generation, and an old generation agent has to make his players his job and the coach his job. Today agents believe they are more than they are. If you have a problem, we can talk. Until he speaks, Yaya isn’t going to play.”

Having waved the red rag in Seluk’s direction, Guardiola sat back and waited for the bull to charge. He did not have long to wait. Touré’s agent’s reaction was as swift and predictable as it was ill-advised.

With no self-awareness and no appreciation of how he has come to be viewed by supporters of the club that his client plays for [or did], Seluk gave Guardiola the response he had been hoping for. There will be no battle for the moral high ground now, it has already been won and lost.

“Guardiola wins a few games and thinks he’s king,” Seluk told Sky Sports News. “I live in Europe so I can say what I like and Guardiola can’t stop me. I will apologise to Guardiola if he will apologise to Manuel Pellegrini for what he did to him.”

Given Guardiola is currently riding a wave of popular opinion having already succeeded in turning City into a team in his own vision, Seluk played right into his hands. Had he said nothing, urged him to discuss matters pertaining to his client privately or questioned whether it is legal for an employee to be prevented from working as a result of the actions of his representative, he might have given himself a foothold.

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 15: Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City embraces Yaya Toure after the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium on May 15, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.

But Seluk, abrasive and outspoken, had been presented with a temptation and could not resist it. In doing so he has given Guardiola additional justification not to select Touré and he will be able to do so in the knowledge that a combination of his own popularity and the low standing of agents (rightly or wrongly) means he has no reason to fear a backlash.

Unless Touré intervenes and distances himself from Seluk’s comments it could be that he has already played his last game for City.

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