Pep Guardiola’s football odyssey has taken him to many places. But never Scotland for a competitive match, he noted yesterday.
This country was where the Guardiola era at Barcelona began, at the club’s summer training camp in St Andrews in 2008. From there they set out to play a friendly across the Tay v Dundee United and then further south against Hibernian.
But Guardiola accepts that neither Tannadice nor even the larger Murrayfield, where the clash with Hibs was staged, can prepare him for what to expect tonight at Celtic Park.
Even Manchester City, the team he took over this summer, are breaking new ground. Unless you count a Texaco Cup defeat by Airdrie 45 years ago this month, they have never played a competitive fixture in Scotland.
Guardiola feels something is being put right by adding a competitive game in Scotland to his CV. He is a man known to enjoy sampling new experiences. Hence his recent hop from Bayern Munich to Manchester City after such a long and distinguished chapter at Barcelona and following a year-long sabbatical in New York.
He was in the Big Apple four years ago when Celtic defeated the Barcelona side he had recently left 2-1 on a famous night in the east end of Glasgow.
“This is my first time here in Glasgow, playing against Celtic,” Guardiola announced last night, at the start of City’s pre-match press conference. “Older people talk to me about the atmosphere and I am looking forward to living this experience.
“I have heard many things,” he added, after being asked how he felt on the eve of a Champions League Group C tie that Guardiola claimed was potentially perilous. “The last two times Barcelona came here they have lost once and won once. So I know how strong Celtic are here.
“I spoke to my players, my old players, and all of them have said this is a special stadium because of the fans and the way Celtic play. It is a good challenge, a big challenge for us to know what our level is like away from home.”
As often happens with those whose first language is not English, Guardiola grasped at the right term to describe a Scottish team and chose “aggressive”. But this needn’t be treated as a slight. He watched the recent clash with Rangers, which Celtic won 5-1, and was impressed with the intensity of their play.
“I saw the game against Rangers here and how intense they were,” he said. “In Barcelona it was different; they were more waiting, more passive. Against Rangers they were so aggressive, high pressing and aggressive. That is what I expect tomorrow night.”
He doesn’t expect that 7-0 defeat at his old stomping ground of Barcelona earlier this month to prey on the minds of the Celtic players.
He was asked whether the home team will be determined to take out their frustration on Manchester City this evening.
“I hope they have that reaction here against Barcelona!” smiled the 45 year-old. “But that was two weeks ago. People forget that. Professional footballers, when they win they are happy, but the day after, two days after, they are focused on the next game.
“If that result had been better tomorrow would have been similarly complicated for us. It is not important to tomorrow what happened in Barcelona.
“I completely agree with what Brendan Rodgers said: many, many teams suffer what happened in Barcelona.
“Of course seven goals is a lot of goals. But Barcelona started quickly, one goal, two goals. There was the chance with the penalty. But after 3-0, it is mentally hard.
“The players are a little bit absent and we know how many goals Barcelona can score; every five minutes sometimes.
“But tomorrow we are here and for 92, 93, 94 minutes we will be focused. It will be completely different.”
Guardiola is without the injured Kevin De Bruyne, pictured left, one of the stars of a start to the season comprising ten straight wins.
Also ruled out is defender and skipper Vincent Kompany, who limped out of Saturday’s 3-1 win over Swansea. Midfielder Fabian Delph is sidelined after sitting out training yesterday – City opted to train in Manchester rather than at Celtic Park last night.
But despite these absentees City are still worth many times the aggregate sum of Celtic. Not that Guardiola was prepared to get involved in comparing football in England and Scotland. Many believe there is now an unbridgeable gulf – gulf being the operative word where Manchester City are involved.
“I am new, I am sorry,” he said. “I have been in English football only two months. And I have never been here for football. I came to play golf. But for football, no. That is why I am so happy, and excited.
“In my football career I was not able to come but as a coach it is a challenge to come here and to Rangers. Some of my players know what it means to play here, some at Bayern Munich, some at Barcelona.
“They have all said it was special for atmosphere.”