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Manchester City

Pep’s plan to create a Champions League-winning fan atmosphere at the Etihad

4:00 AM EST 11/7/18
Pep Guardiola Manchester City 2018-19
The former Barcelona boss has long been bemused by the attitude of Manchester City fans towards the tournament, and is taking steps to change it

Last Tuesday, several of Manchester City's biggest players – and most willing talkers – were rounded up to promote the Champions League.

The resulting video was posted as an advertisement on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, in a bid to get more fans buying tickets for European games, starting with the clash against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.

Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden were the players that obliged, taking turns to share some of their favourite memories of the competition. 

Of great interest, though, was the fact that Pep Guardiola joined in. No matter how commercially active City are – global robot partners etc – the coach is very rarely, if ever, involved. 

Yet the Catalan has a vested interest in this project, and his appearance in the ad is the latest step he has taken to corral City supporters into embracing Europe's premier cup competition. 

"Every Champions League game is special," he said. "I cannot choose [just] one. Every single game in the Champions League is amazing."



A post shared by Manchester City (@mancity) on Oct 31, 2018 at 5:25am PDT

That is not a feeling that is shared by many City supporters, a fact that has become obvious after years booing the competition's anthem.

Guardiola has come to realise the depth of that ill-feeling in recent years, even if he is still wrestling with how exactly he should combat it. 

First of all, he went straight for the jugular. His first Champions League game with the club was postponed for 24 hours due to heavy rain, meaning the Etihad Stadium was less full than it might have been for the re-scheduled fixture. That did not deter the Catalan from trying to get his message across, however.

“I was not here for what happened but they must forget what happened in the past," he said. "We have to be so proud to play in this competition.

"I am going to work until the last moment to convince the people to come here to join us to see the Champions League games.

"Our players deserve the stadium completely full.”

His vow "to work until the last moment" is proof in itself that he had a big say in City's latest advertising campaign, and his approach to convincing the fans has had to change over the years. That is because his first attempts have made little difference. 

The attendance for City's game against Lyon in September, for example, was 40,111. That number sits between their two most recent home cup ties; 35,271 against Fulham in the Carabao Cup fourth round last Thursday, and 43,426 for the semi-final first leg against Bristol City in January.

It is some way short of the 53,285 people who turned up for the FA Cup game against Burnley, also in January.

That is the reality of the situation; universally recognised 'big' games – for example against Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona – will draw crowds of between 52,000 and 54,000 no matter the competition, but less attractive European games do not set the pulses racing.

Guardiola realised after the Lyon game that things have not really improved and while his message is the same, he has tried new ways of delivering it. 

"Our fans can not come for the Champions League games but they cannot say we don't deserve to be playing for Man City," he said in September.

This may look innocuous but it is significant; his frustration was such that he shoe-horned it into an answer regarding a completely unrelated topic, less than an hour after a Premier League game but with more than one eye on the clash at Hoffenheim. 

Then, ahead of the away game with Shakhtar, he attempted to underline the importance of his cause, saying fan involvement is directly linked to success: "We have to be pushed by everyone surrounding Manchester City that we have to win it – and we still don’t have that feeling from the fans.

“I feel we’re a really good team but you still need something special to win the Champions League and still I don’t feel it. But every year we’ll get closer and, sooner or later, it’s going to happen.

“I grew up in Barcelona and when you start to play there they inoculate it into your blood that the only way to survive is to win. The only way to survive is to win and I have to win.

"I know that but I have also learned that, when you don’t win, life goes on and you have another chance in the next season."

Guardiola has had some traction; a sizeable number of supporters joined him in calling for a change in approach following the defeat against Lyon, yet an equally large number remain steadfastly against UEFA.

They point to the fact that, among other things, the City fans were in fine voice both home and away against Liverpool last season but the team lost both games anyway. 

It is clearly a divisive issue, summed up by the fact the 1894 Group, an influential supporters' club, have no official position on it.

"We’re encouraging other fans to do what they personally feel appropriate," they say.

Guardiola clearly does have an official position, but he also has a problem; he has not been able to simply compel fans to change how they feel.

City have turned their Champions League fortunes around since the home defeat to Lyon; just two games later they are top of their group. 

Yet when Shakhtar visit on Wednesday Guardiola will find out if his work away from the pitch has made any difference.