“You might think that Pep Guardiola could relax, but he won’t allow it”

After an extraordinary 60-game season in which Manchester City became just the second English club in history to win the treble of the Premier League, European Cup and FA Cup, it would have been understandable for the players to They would have relaxed a little this season.

And then Nathan Ake reminds you that his coach is Pep Guardiola and the idea of ​​relaxing is simply foreign to a serial winner.

“I don’t know how he does it,” says the City and Holland defender with a mixture of amazement and astonishment. “You would think he would relax because of the things he has won, but he just won’t allow it.

“He wants more and more and immediately. If you have someone in front of you with that mentality, then the team takes that with them too.

“We are never satisfied and even this season we want to do it again. The manager says every day that he wants us to go again and you automatically accept it and everyone wants it.”

Indeed, that was evident after City’s first 45 minutes of the season in the 3-0 win at Burnley. Erling Haaland, who had put City 2-0 ahead inside 36 minutes, was angry at Bernardo Silva for denying him the chance of a hat-trick by not playing him at the end of the first half.

Guardiola took a different view and as soon as the half-time whistle blew he pounced on his star striker to tell him, with his usual manic intensity, why he had been wrong and why his team-mate was right. And that was in public.

Pep Guardiola protests with Manchester City striker Erling Haaland at BurnleyPep Guardiola protests with Manchester City striker Erling Haaland at Burnley

Pep Guardiola was unhappy with Erling Haaland (right) at half-time of Manchester City’s first Premier League match of the season at Burnley – Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty Images

Ake gives you a look that suggests the banter offered in private is something else entirely. “Oh yeah, 100 percent,” she says, blowing her cheeks before laughing. “It doesn’t matter if we win, if we play badly…

“This season we have had games in which, from the outside, it seemed [it was] All wrong and there were times when you would think he would kill us.

“But he would come to meetings and say, ‘We played well, maybe a couple of things [we could have done better] But you have done well, so don’t listen to things from outside.

“[The 2-2 draw against Crystal] Palace recently, for example, where it looked bad, but Pep showed us clips and the way we played was good.

“But there are also games in which the outside [world] “He says it was perfect and that we won 3-0 or something like that and he criticizes you because there were things in the game that he didn’t like.”

The point is that Guardiola can never get enough. Already this season City have added the European Super Cup and, last month, a first Club World Cup to their collection, and Ake believes the players gain extra motivation from the manager’s relentless approach.

“Every player on this team has it anyway, but Pep tops it off with his height and all the awards he’s won,” Ake says. “Having someone in front of you who still pushes you every day takes us to the next level.”

Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias after winning the FIFA Club World CupNathan Ake and Ruben Dias after winning the FIFA Club World Cup
Ake and fellow defender Ruben Dias (right) after winning the FIFA Club World Cup – PA

City, of course, have not gotten their way this season. A five-week slump before Christmas led to Guardiola’s team accumulating just seven points from six games, with a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa after three consecutive draws against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham and boosting the leading team of the players. call a team meeting.

However, City’s title rivals were unable to make the most of their difficulties during that period and, if they beat Newcastle at St James’ Park on Saturday, the champions will trail leaders Liverpool by just two points.

“At one point we had difficulties, but the difference is not too big, so that also motivated us,” says Ake. “[The attitude was] ‘Okay, win these two games. [Everton and Sheffield United] and we’re there again and we can compete again knowing that usually towards the end of the season we hit the ground running and hopefully we’ll do the same. But there is still a long way to go. Liverpool look really strong. Arsenal are also still there after two defeats [to West Ham and Fulham].”

Ake admits that the prospect of making even more history by becoming the first English club to win four consecutive titles is a great source of motivation for the City team. “Yes, it’s because this has never been done before,” he says. “We know as a team it would be amazing to do it.”

If last season was historic for City, it also proved to be the best of Ake’s career and he has continued that excellent form this season, taking advantage of the extra competition provided by the arrival of the second most expensive defender in history in a unique way. . the best do it.

“Even though we won the treble, that’s the power of this club: they don’t sit back and think, ‘Oh, we’re good’,” Ake says of Josko Gvardiol’s £77m signing from RB Leipzig.

“They go for the next and the next and the next and I think that’s a good thing. Because those new players are 100 percent hungry to win their first Premier League title and that brings everyone back up a level.”

12 months ago, Guardiola said after a 4-2 home win against Tottenham that City could not play without Ake. It was not hyperbole. At the time, the team was still coping with the change to a 3-2-4-1 system, but Ake was a model of consistency amidst inconsistency.

Nathan Ake takes on Wolves winger Pedro NetoNathan Ake takes on Wolves winger Pedro Neto

Ake has helped Guardiola and City take down some of the most dangerous wingers in the league – Rui Vieira/AP

“Last season wasn’t a breakthrough, but it was my best year yet,” he says. “My first season [at City] It wasn’t great. I had to learn a lot, overcome injuries and it was a season to forget. The second season I began to understand better what the coach wanted and to feel better while playing, more relaxed as things began to fall into place. Then last season was when I felt more comfortable and with full confidence.”

It’s amazing to think now that Ake might have played in a different shade of blue that season. Chelsea had tried to re-sign the Dutchman the previous summer but never forgot the faith Guardiola showed in him after a difficult first 12 months in which his future was questioned.

“After the first season you often thought, ‘Are they even happy with me?’ Ake recalls. “They could have said, ‘It’s not what we want,’ and gone somewhere else, but they always trusted me. The coach came up to me at the end of the first season and said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ve had injuries, it’s not how we wanted it to be… but you can play different positions, so you’re going ‘It’s going to be very important for us, so keep going.’ That gave me a lot of confidence and the confidence I needed and from there I started keep going.

“Yes of course [you remember that when another team shows interest]. It shows that they still trusted me in the tough times when I wasn’t at my best.

“Since I arrived, the way I have grown personally in all aspects (with the ball, without the ball, tactically) is a different level. The coach takes every game very seriously. “He is a huge part of my development.”

Away from football, Ake relaxes by playing the piano. The arrival of a daughter 14 months ago may have wreaked havoc on the time she has to practice, but he has promised himself to change that this year.

“I’m getting worse because since the little one was born I haven’t had time to practice,” says Ake. “But I told my wife [Kaylee] “My new year’s resolution is to start right again.”

He likes to play songs by Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi and his South Korean counterpart Yiruma, and he is not the only Dutch footballer with a talent for tickling the ivories. Ake and Stefan de Vrij have small electronic pianos in their rooms when they are traveling with the national team, although their love for the instrument was not shared by everyone at the Euro Cup a few years ago.

“At one point they brought in a proper piano, but the musicians were resting and all they could hear was Stefan and I playing, so they got rid of it,” Ake explains, laughing. “Everyone got tired of us. But for us it was a nice break.”

Ake was just 14 when Guardiola’s Barcelona won six trophies in 2009. Fourteen years later, he is still coming to terms with being part of a City team managed by Guardiola that won five trophies in 2023. “When you see teams like that [Barcelona] Winning so many awards seems incredible to you,” he says.

“Being able to do that and say it yourself is still a difficult thing to do. The only time you will realize it properly is after your race, when you start looking back at what you accomplished.”

For now, however, just look forward and dream of more titles to come.

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