Haaland, Grealish, transfer plans – Every word from Khaldoon Al Mubarak Man City interview
Have you recovered from the final day of the season yet?
“It took me about 48 hours. I was very confident coming into it. The team was in the right mindframe, everyone was ready. I could see it in everybody’s eyes that they knew what needed to be done – and then the whistle blew.
“Then you had 94 minutes that felt like a rollercoaster. A phenomenal game. For 75 minutes, I didn’t know what was happening. Sometimes you have games like that. But I have to tell you: I was pretty confident, even in minute 75. I am very confident in this team and the manager. I just knew we needed one goal.
“With one goal the momentum was going to turn. Aston Villa were excellent, there is no question. But let’s not forget, we were playing for something. While they had two goals and were in a good position, I knew the second we scored we’d have the momentum.
“The question was how long until we score the first. We had at least another 15 minutes to go and the way we played, and the electric atmosphere, it was wonderful.”
What have been your standout moments of the season?
“I have to mention that our away form has been exceptional. We lost our first game and then didn’t lose a single game. We won 14 and drew four. That’s exceptional. I’m very proud of the way this team performs away from home in difficult environments.
“It’s been a great year. I thought 10 years ago we would never see a 90 minutes like that again. But to be honest, this goes very very close. It was a standout, the way we dealt with the challenge and suffered but had the personality and attitude to pull off a special victory. A special memory that I will never forget.
“Both Real Madrid games were standouts. Even the away game. Those last few minutes and extra time were difficult but we showed a lot of personality in that game. It was very hard for me being there with Florentino Perez right next to me. I think he actually congratulated me in like the 82nd minute.
“We had this. But that’s football sometimes. The game at the Etihad was incredible and unforgettable. We had some amazing games in the Champions League, (particularly) the home game with PSG.
“In the Premier League, I’d say the win against Chelsea at home – KDB’s goal. The two Liverpool games in the league, two fantastic games. The football that was played was out of this world. We played so, so well and it was a shame that we couldn’t win either of them.
“United at home was a standout too, the way that game played out. The 12-game winning streak in November to January was critical. That stretch was a standout. It’s the hardest part of the season. The attitude and personality to weather through the most difficult part of the season and keep winning was a standout. When you lead the league the number of days we led then I think we deserved it in the end.”
Guardiola said he isn’t under any extra pressure to win the Champions League – is that right?
“You don’t need to put any extra pressure on Pep he puts enough pressure on himself for everyone. It is the exact opposite, I try to bring back the pressure because I think he puts too much pressure on himself. The pressure is not of winning this competition or that competition. We are all in it together.
“Sheikh Mansour looks at the game, understands the game and understands winning and losing very very well which is why his ethos his philosophy I have tried to instil on this organisation and what we have had these last games which is positive, constructive, forward leaning, always pushing forward.
“We approach every season to win and to try to win every competition we compete in. That is the mindset that is the philosophy, that is the approach and has been the case over the last 10 years. We try to win every competition we play and I think part if when you are asking about Pep.
In every competition from the Champions League, the Premier League the FA Cup, we show up every game with full intention to give it everything we have to win every game. And with that you can see the results.
Last summer City paid £100m for Jack Grealish. How do you assess his first season?
“Jack is one of the most promising one of the most exciting players in the world. he came into this club, He is a hard worker he is an incredible talent Pep and the coaching staff are delighted with his work ethic and his numbers are good.
“He is on the right track and all of us know because of standard that we know he is going to deliver because we have high expectations. Lets watch his evolution. I think next season Jack will continue to improve and will be a very important player of this team.”
City have already made two exciting signings this summer in Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez. How happy are you with those deals?
“When Sergio [Aguero] left, replacing him was a big task but it was not something that we have not been preparing for for a couple of years. We have a very strong scouting system. Our scouting team has shown over the years tremendous capability in analysing and scouting the type of talent which would fit our club and our team.
“Look at Julian Alvarez – this is an example of the hard work of our scouting team. A lot of weeks and months of follow up and analysis and ultimately making the right decision at the right time when the market opened. In any market be it January or the summer market which is most of transactions, our preference is to do business as early as possible.
“Most of the time it doesn’t work that way because it is not that easy – there is the buyer and the seller and it takes time. But there are times when there are opportunities to do some. I am delighted that in the case of Julian and Haaland we were able to come in early.
“Now we are here in May and already we can look back with a high degree of confidence that the area we wanted to strengthen the most which was that striker position we have in Haaland we have arguably the best No 9 in the world at the right age when you look at the next 10-15 years we have invested in that striker for the future. And in Alvarez I think we have found one of the most talented young strikers in South America.
All the headlines have been about Erling Haaland. How did the deal happen?
“There is a lot of history. Alfie [Erling’s dad] played for the club which is a nice historic connection with the family. Haaland from his early days in Norway and moving on to Dortmund has been on our radar for four to five years., We have been following his progression and seeing his transition from very talented high quality high potential young player to one of the most if not the most exciting striker in the world.
“His performance at the highest level once he moved to Dortmund in the Champions League and in the Bundesliga, his goals to minutes ratios, is phenomenal. His ability to play on his right, on his left, to score goals with his head, his speed, his physicality. He is a very very unique striker that the whole world has been looking at.
“Every big team in the world wanted Haaland to join and we are absolutely delighted he is joining Man City. It is a testament to all the great work that is happening in this club and testament to the quality in this team. And it is a testament to him not being just a great player but a smart player who saw the potential of what he can do and how he can develop as part of this team and being coached under Pep Guardiola.
“More importantly than all of that is the fans, I think he has a connection to the fans. That combined all these elements together and Haaland made what is a very wise decision in choosing to come to Man City. For us, it’s a super decision. We are getting truly a phenomenal player that will give us great memories for our fans going forward because he will fit very nicely with the squad.”
Should we expect more transfers this summer?
“We’ve been very deliberate over the years in how we freshen up the squad, how we continuously improve the team very deliberately and then how we infuse it with talent from the academy. It took a while to get the academy going, these things take years but we were patient, we invested and kept t it and now you’ve seen over the last couple of years the academy is producing that Sheikh Mansour envisaged from Day One when he invested into the club which isn’t just a sustainable team but one with a very special academy that we will enhance and grow and improve and ultimate have the combination of talent that we are bringing in from all around the world with the local talent from within the academy.
“[Cole] Palmer, [James] McAtee, [Liam] Delap and others are a very talented group but that has been the case for years. Phil Foden has been a tremendous example of a player that started as an 18 yo and now he is 21 and he has four Premier League titles. Thera re not many 21 year-olds with four Premier League titles and he played a huge part in particular the last two – as a 21-year-old.”
Will there be more players signing?
“I can confirm that there will be more players coming in. We are looking to strengthen the team in the areas we need strengthening. Every season some players leave and we have to refresh the team. We always look at improving and strengthening. We’ve made two very important additions already but I anticipate we will be doing a couple more.”
They will come in quickly?
We will try to go as fast as we can but it depends on the market. If it was up to me, they would all be done on July 1.
How do you assess Fernandinho’s contribution?
The greatest thing that you can see with Fernandinho is what he has accomplished with this club. 5 Premier League titles, 6 league cups and an FA Cup. This is a remarkable tally by any standards. We’ve been lucky to have great leaders in the squad throughout the years but when Vincent [Kompany] left there were big shoes to fill and Fernandinho has stepped up.
“You can see in the two years he was captain we won the league and on the last day of the season it takes a lot of personality and leadership. He’s been a remarkable player, a remarkable captain, a remarkable leader, a fantastic individual and he will be missed by everyone in this organization because he was a silent leader who always spoke with his actions and was a good example for everyone – particularly the younger players – was a great inspiration to them and everybody looks up to him. He’s going to be truly missed.
Will Pep Guardiola be staying beyond the year left on his contract?
“Pep has never stayed as long as he’s stayed (here) with any club, be it Barcelona or Bayern Munich. So, the question is perfectly valid. It is perfectly valid last year and was three years ago. And of course this year.
“It is a partnership that has done wonders in years. It is approaching its seventh year and next year is going to be an exciting chapter of his partnership and we’re enjoying every moment of it. We’re achieving great things together and this conversation will be had at the right time, at the right pace, and with the pace, time and framework that works for Pep. “
City’s squad this season has been smaller than normal – by design or by accident?
“The squad size and composition, obviously Pep has a major role in it, he decides the size of the squad and the requirements, what he needs. This year the composition of the squad really, and the size of it, was his decision.
“Last summer we tried our best to get a striker, that was the key position that we missed last summer and everyone knows the player we were going after and what happened. But at the end of the day, with Pep and this team it is not just about filling a position.
“We have reached a level of quality, a standard, which will not compromise on quality. If we find the right player for that particular position, we will get that player. And if not, Pep has shown us he will find solutions with the group we have and within the quality we have in the academy.
“We are in a different position to where we were many years ago, we have so much talent in the squad and academy. When we need something it is very specific and deliberate, and if we are able to bring that player, great. If not, it doesn’t mean anyone else can fill it. We are in a different paradigm from that perspective.”
Success in the club stretches down to the academy
“It is what we have been building for many years and now it is there and it is performing at the highest level. When you talk about the academy, let me give you one data-point that people don’t appreciate.
“In the age group between 8 and 23, we have over 200 players, 85% are local. When you look at all the records and success last year and the years before, it is happening while we are developing our local talent base in the area. “
How do you assess the season?
“Having a competitor like Liverpool, a team that I have to say we give the highest respect towards, a team that in any rivalry or competitive situation like we have, we have made each other better. These two teams have been the benchmark in global football.
Expect more of the same next year?
“Absolutely. What makes this era so special is the quality of the football, which has been exceptional. This is the best league in the world and within that, we are privileged to see two competitors play at the level we’ve seen in the last couple of years, continually pushing each other to the next level.
“We were happy and celebrating on Sunday night but within hours the conversation between myself, Ferran [Soriano], Pep, Txiki [Begiristain] was about next season and how we can keep improving the team. Our mindset, while celebratory, immediately flips to the future and how to keep strengthening.”