JACK GAUGHAN: If you don’t have Pep Guardiola’s trust, you’re toast – the ruthless Man City manager is willing to forgive mistakes but not deaf ears

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The aura has returned. Pep Guardiola will be minding his back after surgery in Barcelona and now Manchester City’s players will be watching theirs.

Although the manager was all the way in Catalonia watching victories over Sheffield United and Fulham, sat bolt upright alongside his son Marius on the couch, he was involved. The backroom team felt his presence, sharing AirPods to communicate, and Guardiola FaceTimed the team afterwards. It’s not like actually being there but the boss still loomed, puppeteering.

His setup at home was described as not particularly hi-tech or special: just a television and mobile phone. Premier League teams can easily get hold of original broadcast footage – truly live, without the consumer’s delay, the likes of which used for pundits on the Saturday afternoon round-up shows.

Guardiola could impact proceedings when he deemed fit and will have arrived back on Wednesday with a fistful of notes from City’s last two games ready for West Ham on Saturday. 

Quite a lot of other stuff happened in his absence. Deadline Day felt unusually busy at the Etihad Stadium, noticeable not for the signing of Matheus Nunes but the raft of outgoings. And all of them, bar Joao Cancelo, academy products.

Pep Guardiola has returned from back surgery to continue overseeing his behemoth's preparations early this season

Pep Guardiola has returned from back surgery to continue overseeing his behemoth’s preparations early this season

Winning the manager's faith is an important part of playing under Guardiola - as Cole Palmer found before plumping for a move to Chelsea earlier this summer

Winning the manager’s faith is an important part of playing under Guardiola – as Cole Palmer found before plumping for a move to Chelsea earlier this summer

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Cole Palmer was the headline, a £42.5million switch to Chelsea, but James McAtee, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle all going represented a significant few hours. At various stages over the last few years, all four been earmarked as potential first-team players.

Harwood-Bellis is on loan at Southampton but will leave permanently if they win promotion. It’s likely that Doyle’s move to Wolves goes the same way, while McAtee returned to Sheffield United on loan. The trio made a combined 23 appearances for Guardiola, with Palmer chalking up 41 on his own. It’s worth noting that Oleksandr Zinchenko is the only one to ever leave temporarily – a miserable spell at PSV Eindhoven – before then fighting a way into the manager’s plans.

‘The level is that high, the pressure is that immense,’ England Under-21 boss Lee Carsley, who has coached all of the academy talents, told Mail Sport. ‘You literally can’t afford one slip up, can you? The stakes are so high. You’re more likely to go with the tried and tested ones where you know what you’re going to get.’

Guardiola and Palmer did not speak before or after Chelsea was confirmed, the 21-year-old departing on the promise of more chances. City liked him yet there was never a feeling that Palmer would start a game of real importance anytime soon.

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‘It’s difficult for everyone,’ Palmer said. ‘He doesn’t just give you an opportunity, you know what I mean? He doesn’t just give it you. He’s one of the best managers in the world and helped me so much. I’ve improved so much from when I went with the first team at 17 to now. But I made the decision to move on.’

This is about trust; a word Guardiola constantly refers to. Some, like Palmer, are in a perennial battle for that. And when you have it, don’t lose it. For if you do, that is that. Toast.

Fabian Delph felt it four years ago, brutally jettisoned after a stupidly petulant red card during defeat at Leicester. Later that season he was given a random vote of confidence, starting a Champions League quarter-final at Tottenham, only for his mistake to cost them the tie. He never played for the club again. A few others – Nolito, Ferran Torres, Danilo – never got it and exited stage left.

In less dramatic circumstances than Delph, Aymeric Laporte saw himself sidelined following a draw at Nottingham Forest in February. He’s now in Saudi Arabia. Guardiola, who rarely explains team selection to his players, talks glowingly of both individuals yet they had run out of chances.

He is forgiving of mistakes but not deaf ears. At Barcelona, centre half Dmitro Chygrynskiy disobeyed the gameplan weeks after joining, going long to Zlatan Ibrahimovic rather than playing short, and then sat and watched the majority of the 2009-10 season, soon sold back to Shakhtar Donetsk.

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Cancelo is more of a personality clash. Part of the Portuguese’s gripes before a bust-up with Guardiola centred on Rico Lewis, and how the teenager was afforded chances last year. Cancelo ignored that Lewis has what Guardiola wants: he listens, absorbs information and is tactically aware enough to carry out often convoluted instructions. He is not the fastest, strongest or best on the ball, but he is a Guardiola player. After a flurry of appearances and earning major praise for his role in lifting levels as City struggled around January, the teenager realises patience is now required.

Losing the faith is far easier than gaining it, as plenty have found. Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Nathan Ake and Kalvin Phillips all struggled with it in their first seasons. All often watching from the sides, actually learning from their teammates more than in training. Conversely, Jack Grealish was given as much time as possible to prove his worth in a disappointing debut campaign – proving there is not a one size fits all approach by Guardiola. Crucially, Grealish always executed the ball retention aspect of City’s game perfectly, which says a lot. With the 52-year-old’s backing, he has now flourished for over 12 months. His adaptation followed a similar pattern to Rodri, now considered the best No 6 in Europe.

Fabian Delph was given a rare second chance by Guardiola but failed to rise to the occasion

Fabian Delph was given a rare second chance by Guardiola but failed to rise to the occasion

Jack Grealish is an excellent example of the patience Guardiola will have with player to come good - his £100m signing paying dividends a season later than anticipated

Jack Grealish is an excellent example of the patience Guardiola will have with player to come good – his £100m signing paying dividends a season later than anticipated

But Kalvin Phillips is still finding City life tough, having played just six minutes this season

But Kalvin Phillips is still finding City life tough, having played just six minutes this season

Phillips is still finding life tough, featuring for just six minutes so far this term. ‘I basically knew,’ Phillips told Mail Sport. ‘I knew I wasn’t going to walk into a Guardiola team. It doesn’t work like that with him.’ Phillips – who was adamant about staying this summer – maintains he has become a better midfielder but barely finds himself on the grass. It is a situation that will require a conclusion soon.

The others found a way through. Silva, who signed a new contract this summer after City rejected a derisory bid from Paris Saint-Germain, is integral. Kyle Walker as well, with Guardiola desperate for him to remain amid interest from Bayern Munich during what was a tricky transfer window.

‘Different’ is how the summer is being described around City. They waited on Walker and Mahrez in particular, as other key members of the squad debated using the Treble as a perfect farewell. Ilkay Gundogan did, the midfielder claiming a new contract offer came too late. City sources insisting his heart was always set on a new challenge in Barcelona.

Midfielders who didn’t require lengthy acclimatisation were imperative, while remaining within the net spend targets directed by chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. City walked away from Declan Rice over the price tag and were struggling to agree terms for Lucas Paqueta before Mail Sport revealed betting allegations that scuppered any deal regardless.

In carrying the team forward from central areas, Mateo Kovacic has surpassed expectations so far, while Nunes only met the manager this week. Nunes is the man with the hardest task this year. Norwegian Oscar Bobb, a young tricky winger, must also work on earning the confidence of the one who picks the team during his first year with the superstars.

‘It’s about trying to give as much to the team as you can regardless of how many minutes you spend on the pitch,’ one source said. ‘Players most open to learning are usually the most successful.’ What they missed out were Guardiola’s basic attitude spot checks. Appearance is massive. Do not turn up to the City Football Academy scruffy. Look involved and ready for work. Engage with team-mates. There are a few who Guardiola never warmed to because of these factors, the sort of which often overlooked within football clubs. They actually play a bigger role than imagined.

Take one frighteningly talented teenager called up to train with the seniors. His bravado was considered so jarring that he was never asked back. City quickly found a buyer for him.

When the trust is there, it appears there is no better boss to work under, something John Stones – other than Zinchenko, the only player to come back from the brink – will attest to. ‘Sometimes I am angry but it doesn’t mean I don’t trust them,’ Guardiola said. ‘If they felt the manager doesn’t trust them, they could not follow me. And the guys who are “in” did, all the way to a Treble.

The man who knits this all together is Phil Foden. Both an academy product and readymade superstar at 17. He’s 23 now, seven weeks older than Erling Haaland. There is always a lot of discussion around Foden, England’s generational midfielder, and some still believe he is yet to truly crack it with Guardiola.

Over time he has become someone who regularly plays more than 45 games a season. The slowly, slowly approach when he was a teenager paid off – even if Foden himself couldn’t understand the limited minutes, often talked down by those close to him during colourful conversations. City never countenanced allowing him to go elsewhere temporarily, preferring he train with them, and Foden himself rarely gave that a thought anyway. The idea of upping sticks, even for a short period, didn’t appeal. Like Palmer, he’d never left Greater Manchester and unlike Palmer, he didn’t fancy trying.

Phil Foden (centre) is a shining example of the value of the slowly, slowly approach favoured by the coach

Phil Foden (centre) is a shining example of the value of the slowly, slowly approach favoured by the coach

Joao Cancelo is unlikely to ever turn out under the former Barcelona manager at the Etihad

Joao Cancelo is unlikely to ever turn out under the former Barcelona manager at the Etihad

Things may have transpired differently had he agitated. McAtee was granted a wish for regular football, while Palmer’s motivation for seeking pastures new was games. The forward’s self-confidence dictates that he believes a run in Chelsea’s team will see him stay there.

It brings to mind City’s Under-18 team that boasted Foden, Jadon Sancho and Brahim Diaz.

Sancho once tweeted a picture of the trio in 2017 captioned: ‘Three young boys. One dream.’ He and Diaz were just as promising but soon sought moves for quicker opportunities – some say impatiently, others say understandably.

Sancho’s to Borussia Dortmund was forced, Diaz to Real Madrid more amicable. Neither are enjoying the same career as the other lad from Stockport. For Guardiola, that serves as vindication of his methods.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify

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