“It’s beautiful listening to how they speak, the musicality of their words,” says Pep Guardiola of a country, a culture, which has had such an impact on his career. “They think in Argentina, they like to speak a lot about football and their ideas.”
Guardiola’s footballing philosophy is grounded in the Dutch school of Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal, but the Catalan, who has called himself an ideas thief, has learned plenty from the Argentine way of thinking.
His is a long fascination with the country: as a player at Barcelona he would ask his Argentine team-mates to teach him songs from the terraces of La Bombonera and El Monumental, and then go around the training ground singing them himself. During his time in Italy it was Gabriel Batistuta who recommended he get in touch with Marcelo Bielsa if he wanted to go into coaching.
So in 2006 he visited Argentina to speak to some of the country’s great footballing thinkers. There were several dinners with Cesar Luis Menotti, and a marathon chat at Bielsa’s farm, with a friend and a couple of chairs used as props in their tactical discussions.
Bielsa and Menotti are the two coaches most associated with beautiful, attacking football in the eternal performance-versus-results debate which dominates the football landscape in Argentina.
Guardiola, of course, is on the same side, and has been since the early days of his playing career. At the 1994 World Cup he would call Argentine Angel Cappa, assistant to Jorge Valdano at Tenerife and Real Madrid, to talk football and bemoan the philosophy of Spain coach Javier Clemente. Clemente was more Carlos Bilardo than Menotti, and Guardiola would make his feelings known about the stodgy style in his conversations with Cappa. Guardiola was 23 years old at the time.
Manchester City’s relationship with Argentina does not stretch as far back as Guardiola’s but there is enough of a link that “Our Argentinean Blues” has become one of the most popular songs at the Etihad Stadium in recent years - though it is unknown if Guardiola has been singing it himself.
Having borrowed the tune from the catchy chant that Argentines bellowed up and down Brazil during the 2014 World Cup , City’s supporters warn the opposition that Nicolas Otamendi, Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero “are coming after you, our Argies are coming after you!”
Argentina is indelibly linked to City’s modern history thanks to Aguero’s last-minute, title-winning goal against Queens Park Rangers in 2012, not to mention Zabaleta's opening goal, but the country would have always had a role to play in that fateful season given Carlos Tevez stormed back there for several months after falling out with Roberto Mancini. He returned, eventually, and his hat-trick at Norwich proved a crucial part of the run-in. His golf swing celebration, a nod to what he got up to during his sabbatical, is also part of City’s history.
There have been a steady stream of Argentines at City since then; the chant’s second verse name checks Martin Demichelis, Willy Caballero and Bruno Zuculini.
Yet it is somewhat ironic that Guardiola, given his appreciation of the country’s footballing qualities, could be set to oversee a break-up of the group and perhaps end the recent tradition.
Silva sees City progress under Pep
Zabaleta will leave when his contract expires in the summer, having informed the club that he no longer has the legs for a season fighting on four fronts. He gave his all for City, and according to Vincent Kompany is somebody who “epitomises what the fans have loved about City for so many years”.
Caballero also looks likely to leave this summer, despite appreciation among City’s coaching staff for the job he has done this season. The goalkeeper, over the last 14 months, has become a firm favourite among fans.
And then there is Aguero, who will sit down with Guardiola at the end of the season to decide his future. If he does go, it will leave just Otamendi, who himself has been linked with Real Madrid but has improved sufficiently in recent weeks that he is probably the most likely of his countrymen to stay.
Zabaleta will say goodbye on Tuesday night and there will be few, if any, City fans leaving early and missing the right-back’s post-match address. Nobody at City has ever faulted his effort or ability and Guardiola has hailed him as “one of the most important players in the whole history of Manchester City”.
He also embodies everything Guardiola appreciates of the Argentines he has worked with: “They are all huge personalities and they are good competitors and Pablo is a good expression of that,” he said on Tuesday. “When the situation is going well, wow, they are good.”
Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue and there was no intended implication that things are not so good when the chips are down.
But maybe Zabaleta is the first of many to leave in the coming months and Guardiola, for all that he has been influenced by their countrymen, is looking to rebuild his squad without City’s Argentinean Blues.