A highly regarded Premier League manager was showing a group of journalists around his training facility this summer. 

The subject of a very famous rival came up. ‘You,’ he said, pointing a finger at one of the writers, ‘could win the league at Barcelona.’ ‘And you,’ he said, with another jab, ‘could win the league at Bayern Munich.’

He probably thinks any of us could win the league at Manchester City, too. Certainly with the money Pep Guardiola has spent. That is the popular wisdom. That Guardiola has bought the league. That with the resources Sheik Mansour throws at his project, any coach, any hack even, would be eight points clear right now.

Pep Guardiola's success at Manchester City is down to more than his financial outlay

Pep Guardiola's success at Manchester City is down to more than his financial outlay

Pep Guardiola’s success at Manchester City is down to more than his financial outlay

It isn’t true, though. City have money, but the success of Guardiola’s vision isn’t just about spending it. How he spends, where he spends, who he spends it on, that is what has set City apart so far this season.

Nobody said Guardiola was buying the league when he paid around £50million for Tottenham full back Kyle Walker. They said, quite frankly, that he was crackers.

All of the elite clubs have money these days, anyway. Guardiola has more of it, but not so much more.

Net, the difference between his spending at Manchester City and that of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United is around £44m — or Bernardo Silva. And Manchester City are not eight points clear because of Bernardo Silva. Most weeks, he can’t get in the team.

Guardiola’s outlay is slightly more than £380m but that, too, does not explain why City have been so good this season.

Give any other manager £380m and a squad like Guardiola’s would not have been assembled; give any manager Mansour money and at least one big ticket item would have been recruited.

The Qatari wealth behind Paris Saint-Germain has bought Neymar and Kylian Mbappe; Manchester United have spent £75m on Romelu Lukaku and £90m on Paul Pogba. Guardiola’s most expensive signing is Benjamin Mendy, who will miss most of the season injured and was roughly half of what Pogba cost.

Bernardo Silva is essentially the difference in spend between City and Manchester United

Bernardo Silva is essentially the difference in spend between City and Manchester United

Bernardo Silva is essentially the difference in spend between City and Manchester United

Those who consider Guardiola to have bought the league do not mention the singular nature of his recruitment; how different he is to the rest. He hasn’t bought the league in the conventional way: world stars, big names, big strikers. He has a way of playing and pays top dollar for those who fit his strategy; but that is not the same.

Walker is the perfect example of a Guardiola signing. When he was finally secured from Tottenham, the wisdom was that Daniel Levy had got the best of that deal.

Tottenham’s chairman was thought to have done it again. He had prised a ludicrously inflated fee from a club whose owner was corrupting the market with his foolish largesse.

Tottenham then went out and bought Serge Aurier from PSG meaning, with the excellent Kieran Trippier, they were perceived to have the best of the deal. Walker wouldn’t even have been the best right back at Tottenham this season, it was argued. Guardiola was a mug. This wasn’t a move that would deliver the title.

Yet Walker, and all the full backs that Guardiola recruited this summer as his detractors smirked, is integral to delivering the way Manchester City play. 

He gives them width, meaning forward wide players like Raheem Sterling can come inside and get into scoring positions. So now, with hindsight, buying Walker is viewed as buying the title; back then, it made Guardiola Levy’s stooge.

Nobody saw it as the title in the bag when John Stones arrived for £47.5m, either. Raw, overindulged, overpriced, couldn’t defend. It is Guardiola who has persevered with him, who has refined his game, made him a centre half of international quality. 

The signing of Kyle Walker for £50million drew widespread criticism in the summer

The signing of Kyle Walker for £50million drew widespread criticism in the summer

The signing of Kyle Walker for £50million drew widespread criticism in the summer

The Spaniard deserves credit for improving his players and helping them mature 

The Spaniard deserves credit for improving his players and helping them mature 

The Spaniard deserves credit for improving his players and helping them mature 

Buying players that mature into potential title winners is also not buying the league. It’s called coaching, or development, and Guardiola has done it with Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, too.

When City bought Jesus he was a teenager yet to play a game for Brazil’s senior team, and had completed one full season with Palmeiras, winning the league’s best newcomer award.

That he has made a fabulous impact in the Premier League is not because Guardiola took a proven performer.

Jesus cost roughly a third of what Manchester United paid for Lukaku, and if Arsene Wenger alighted on a player of his immense talent and potential he would be hailed as a genius, and a spotter of great talent. Jesus did not cost a fortune and neither, by modern standards, did Sane.

Again, he was considered a gamble — a member of Germany’s 2016 European Championship squad, but only worthy of a single substitute appearance in the tournament, on for the last 11 minutes against France in the semi-final.

Not that Sane was from nowhere — he played 50 games for Schalke and his fee was £37m — but he fell into the category of a hot prospect, not a sure-fire winner. There are very few instances of Guardiola investing in a finished article.

His buys are not guaranteed — but, increasingly, his guidance is making them so. Equally, while Sterling, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero were bought for a combined price of around £162m, inheriting players and getting as much, if not more, than any other manager from them is not buying the league, either.

Gabriel Jesus is another example of a young player to improve drastically under Guardiola

Gabriel Jesus is another example of a young player to improve drastically under Guardiola

Gabriel Jesus is another example of a young player to improve drastically under Guardiola

While there is no doubt Guardiola walked into a good situation with some of his squad, in key areas City were ageing, and several major signings were considered to have disappointed, or peaked.

De Bruyne was good — but he didn’t look like one of the top five midfield players in Europe. Silva and Aguero have been wonderful, but both were thought to have seen their best days at City; Sterling had lost his way, after a promising start.

It may look now as if Guardiola fell into great fortune, but the same players did not appear world-beaters in Manuel Pellegrini’s final campaign. City were said to be in need of an overhaul, and some of the players now eight points clear were thought to be on their way out.

Instead, it is hard to think of one who has not improved under Guardiola’s tutelage. Even without the positive return at the top of the league table, Guardiola would have done a good job.

What he certainly has not done is bought the league. He has bought talent, he has bought youth, he has bought intelligently, he has bought to fit a plan — and, no, he hasn’t bought cheap. But who does these days? Not Guardiola’s opponents on Sunday, or any of the teams City will hope to face in the later stages of the Champions League.

To build a team as Guardiola has done is far from easy, though, no matter the budget. Indeed, one might ask his contemporaries, if it really is that simple, why they don’t do it too?

England must shake up order to deal with Lyon King 

As predicted here, on the back of this Ashes series, Nathan Lyon is now the world’s leading wicket-taker for 2017; as also predicted here, he is the scourge of England’s left-handed batsmen. Already 10 of his 11 wickets in the series have come against England’s left-handers, and he has taken Moeen Ali four times.

In the circumstances it is mystifying that England coach Trevor Bayliss not only sees no reason to change the Test team for Perth, he also sees no reason to tinker with the order. Surely, given Ali’s struggles, it is time to elevate Jonny Bairstow from seven, even if Bayliss insists that is his favoured position.

‘He’ll play wherever we ask him to play,’ Bayliss added, which begs the question: why not ask him to bat higher, then?

To allow Lyon to continue feasting on players who find his off spin impossible to resist is a recipe for failure.

England cannot afford more of that in Perth.

Nathan Lyon has been dominated England's left-handers so far in the Ashes

Nathan Lyon has been dominated England's left-handers so far in the Ashes

Nathan Lyon has been dominated England’s left-handers so far in the Ashes

Lineker must realise Infantino has dodgy pal 

Now does Gary Lineker get what is wrong with his new best pal, FIFA president Gianni Infantino?

Last week, even the lickspittle IOC president Thomas Bach was forced to make a stand against Russia’s state-sponsored doping. Russia was banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics, and sports minister Vitaly Mutko was banned from the Olympics for life for what Bach described as an ‘unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport’.

Almost immediately, however, Mutko found a friend. Despite his role in overseeing a programme which in effect amounts to the state-sponsored doping of more than 1,000 athletes across 30 sports, including football, Mutko will remain in charge of the World Cup, which will remain in Russia.

Within an hour of the IOC announcement, Infantino’s FIFA rushed out a statement to say it had ‘no impact on the preparations for the 2018 World Cup as we continue to work to deliver the best possible event’.

So Mutko, president of the Russian Football Union and chairman of the World Cup organising committee, remains the face of the competition.

Vitaly Mutko remains in charge of the World Cup and is protected by Gianni Infantino

Vitaly Mutko remains in charge of the World Cup and is protected by Gianni Infantino

Vitaly Mutko remains in charge of the World Cup and is protected by Gianni Infantino

WADA called on FIFA to investigate Mutko as long ago as July 2016, and Swiss prosecutor Cornel Borbely did begin the process, but he was removed by Infantino and the trail has gone cold.

Miguel Maduro, a Portuguese law professor, was also fired from his chairmanship of FIFA’s governance committee, later revealing Infantino had interfered with a decision to bar Mutko from the FIFA council. 

This is the man Lineker, and many gullible others, consider to be a new broom after the corrupt regime of Sepp Blatter. Lineker, we are told, wore a rainbow wristband while presenting the World Cup final draw, and ensured he was not required to meet Vladimir Putin backstage. Big deal: that’s gesture politics.

The frontman for the 2018 World Cup is a drug cheat, protected by the most powerful man in football.

Lineker was misguided in being their stooge and, the more we know of Mutko and Infantino’s symbiotic relationship, the more apparent that will become.

Looking at the knockout options for Premier League teams that won their Champions League groups, one could be tricked into thinking finishing first or second does not matter.

Bayern Munich and Juventus are possible opponents for all four English group winners, Real Madrid a possibility for all bar Tottenham. But it could be worse. They could be Chelsea. 

Teams from the same country cannot meet in the last 16 so, by finishing second when so many English teams came first, Chelsea have just three possible challengers: Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Besiktas. There is a 66 per cent chance they will be over-matched.

England’s four group winners — Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Manchester City — could also be unlucky but, even so, their odds are better. As well as Munich, Juventus and Porto, potential opponents include FC Basel (all bar Manchester United), Sevilla (all bar Liverpool), Shakhtar Donetsk (all bar Manchester City) and Real Madrid (all bar Tottenham). 

So in Tottenham’s case a 33 per cent chance of a short straw draw, for the rest, 50 per cent. There never is a completely easy route to the final — but winning the group still matters.

We invented football, Greg, use it 

Greg Clarke, the Football Association chairman, is doing the rounds of FIFA member countries trying to gauge support for another England World Cup bid in 2030. Why bother? 

The case for England to host in World Cup centenary year is so flawed, it is surely doomed.

When the World Cup began, the FA wanted no part of it. They were not even members of FIFA, having resigned in 1928.

Other countries travelled across continents from Europe, but England stayed apart and remained that way until 1950.

The move to 48 qualifying countries has greatly limited the hosting options, but if FIFA are moved to acknowledge the history of their competition, a nod to the original hosts would surely be appropriate, with Uruguay staging at least some of the tournament, in partnership with Argentina or other South American nations.

Technically, 2030 is Europe’s turn, but one of the four European nations that made the original journey — France, Belgium and Romania, although Yugoslavia no longer exist — have a greater claim than England.

Greg Clarke is currently campaigning for England to host the World Cup in 2030

Greg Clarke is currently campaigning for England to host the World Cup in 2030

Greg Clarke is currently campaigning for England to host the World Cup in 2030

The irony is that Clarke’s mission statement as he begins his latest round of global glad-handing appears to rule out his best line of attack. ‘We are building bridges,’ he said, ‘we are showing that we are not standoffish, noses in the air, we invented football. The sort of stuff that we have a reputation for.’

Yet that is about England’s only case for hosting in 2030. We have good stadiums, good transport links, and decent infrastructure, but so do a lot of countries.

We invented football — that is something the others haven’t got. Clarke thinks it makes us arrogant to say so, but whether we joined in at the time or not, without us, our leagues, our public school law makers, our codified rulebooks, no World Cup and no FIFA could have existed.

Yet the one card Clarke will not play — England as the birthplace of the game, and therefore indirectly of its most famous tournament — is actually the trump in his hand. Without it, we have about as much right to host as Slovenia.

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