There was more than the usual anticipation for Pep Guardiola’s scheduled press conference last Friday, four days after Manchester City had been accused by the Premier League of systematically misleading the league about the true state of their finances for nearly a decade.
This, after all, is the celebrated coach who insisted last year: “If they lie to me, the day after, I am not here.”
Already regarded as the best in the world before he won four Premier League titles in six full seasons with City, how would he react to accusations which, if true, would cast doubt on all he has achieved since 2016, a period which now amounts to almost half of his career in management?
But far from admitting to any concern that there might be substance behind these stubborn allegations, Guardiola set out to show the world that he could not be any more Sky Blue-pilled.
According to City’s coach, his club “have already been condemned” (they have not), “we had already sentence” (they did not), and the charges against City can be understood as a plot by rivals who are scheming to grab in the courts what they weren’t good enough to win on the pitch.
Guardiola even went so far as to wonder who would compensate City if the charges do not stand up: “What happen if, in the same situation that Uefa happen, we are innocent – what happen to restore or pay back our damage?”
You might have thought he would try to steer away from the question of damages, given the possibility that City might be found guilty.
But to Guardiola this is just the Uefa charge all over again. He talked about the nine teams who had written to Uefa asking for City to be thrown out of the Champions League.
“Burnley, Wolves, Leicester, Newcastle, Spurs, Arsenal, United, Liverpool, Chelsea. Out of the Champions League. They wanted that position.”
Later he would return to the subject of those nine teams: “What these nine teams has done, I don’t forget it. These nine teams, I don’t forget it what they have done.”
But if that made it sound like he was nursing a personal grudge against these teams, the first time he mentioned them, he had added a serene if cynical aphorism: “Like Julius Caesar said, in this world, there are not enemies or friends, there are just interests.”
Who would argue with such a judge of human affairs as Julius Caesar? The only thing is, it’s hard to find a record of Caesar ever saying this. Misattribution of quotes is an internet plague. Maybe Pep saw this quote superimposed on a picture of Julius Caesar on Instagram. It could equally have been added to a picture of Winston Churchill or Ye.
Actually the quote sounds like a remark by Lord Palmerston, then Britain’s foreign secretary, to the House of Commons in 1848: “We [i.e. the British Empire] have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
Palmerston is remembered in Ireland as the absentee landlord of the huge estate at Mullaghmore in Sligo that would later be owned by Lord Mountbatten. He ordered the building of Mullaghmore’s famous harbour, and of Classiebawn Castle which overlooks the peninsula. He also took advantage of the opportunity presented by the Famine to deport 2,000 of his starving tenants to Canada aboard coffin ships.
An early adopter of the view that “Ireland is full”, he wrote to his friend Lord Russell, the prime minister of the day: “It is useless to disguise the truth that any great improvement in the social system of Ireland must be founded upon an extensive change in the present state of agrarian occupation, and that this change necessarily implies a long continued and systematic ejectment of Smallholders and of Squatting Cottiers”.
When he came out with the line [mis]quoted by Pep, Palmerston was defending himself against charges of doing a secret deal with the Tsar of Russia. Followers of City’s travails will see a contemporary resonance in the fact that much of that debate revolved around whether parliamentary investigators should be granted access to historic state documents which could contain material relevant to the enquiries.
Palmerston scoffed at one point: “I have only to say, that if a Secret Committee have to go through the 2,775 volumes of documents, I wish them joy of their task.”
If Pep admires Caesar enough to misquote him in press conferences, here’s something he actually did say. Caesar’s wife Pompeia had an admirer called Publius Clodius Pulcher, who was caught one night infiltrating a women-only religious festival with the apparent intention of seducing Pompeia. A scandal erupted and Clodius was tried for sacrilege.
Plutarch tells us what happened next: “Caesar divorced Pompeia at once, but when he was summoned to testify at the trial, he said he knew nothing about the matters with which Clodius was charged. His statement appeared strange, and the prosecutor therefore asked:, “Why, then, didst thou divorce thy wife?”
“Because,” said Caesar, “I thought my wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”
And so the saying “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” became an aphorism about the standards of conduct required in public affairs.
We know now that Pep Guardiola is no Julius Caesar. For Caesar suspicion was intolerable, but Pep, it turns out, can live with it.
“There can be suspicions, it’s okay. It’s okay. They doubt about us, it’s okay. There are accusations, it’s okay.”
Mere appearances don’t worry him. The matter is with the lawyers now.
In the meantime, City play on. As their players limbered up for kick-off against Aston Villa the City fans unfurled a banner reading “Pannick On The Streets Of London” in tribute to Lord Pannick, the illustrious barrister City have hired to lead their defence.
The fans booed the Premier League anthem, then ran through their updated song repertoire: F**k the Premier League, Sheikh Mansour my Lord, Sheikh Mansour, and We’ll cheat when we want.
Lord Pannick must be over the moon with that.