Pep Guardiola knows Man City’s most important signing of summer after surprise exit – Joe Bray

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When Manchester City were 2-0 down against Aston Villa on the final day of the season at the Etihad, an exasperated Pep Guardiola turned to his bench, went to sit down and turned to the man who’d been there all season.

By taking a moment to assess the situation with long-time friend and assistant manager Juanma Lillo, it was probably the comforting, level-headed reset Guardiola needed, with City going on to complete a remarkable comeback and seal the title in dramatic circumstances when all looked lost.

Guardiola has praised Lillo’s ability to calm him down in the past, and it’s fair to say Lillo’s impact in his two years at City was as important as any player in their back-to-back Premier League titles. But now Lillo is departing City for the first team manager’s role at Al-Sadd Sports Club in Qatar, leaving Guardiola with perhaps his most important signing of the summer to make. His next assistant.

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“Without him being where we are in the table would have been impossible,” Guardiola said of Lillo in January 2021. “He sees things that I am not able to see.

“He has a special sense. Especially in the bad moments. He makes me feel calm and makes me see the real situation of the team apart from the result.

“He always has the vision to see what I can not see. His help in this period, with Rodolfo [Borrell], has been so important in this period. I have Rodolfo who has been with us a long time, who helps me a lot, all the time but especially this season because Juanma does not speak English so well yet.

“In some defensive issues he helped us in the beginning. He talks especially with the Latin players. He is important to me. ”

When Mikel Arteta left City to join Arsenal, Guardiola spoke of his assistant’s impact, and it took months to replace him with Lillo as it was a mid-season departure. This time, City have some time over the summer to replace arguably their most important member of the backroom staff.

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Juanma Lillo with Pep Guardiola.

On the few occasions Guardiola spoke about Lillo’s impact, he would always reference Lillo’s calmness in the ‘bad moments’ – just like the Villa game. Whoever arrives as his replacement will need to have a similar calming influence, while they will also be tasked with continuing Arteta’s tactical and man-management influence before that.

Reports suggest City’s 2020/21 academy head coach Enzo Maresca will be the man stepping into Lillo’s shoes after he left last summer to take the manager’s role at Parma – but was sacked mid-season.

If Maresca is the chosen one, he would have the advantage of having worked at City before and with Guardiola. He would also know a number of City’s younger players having led the under-23s to the Premier League 2 title in his one season in charge.

Those youngsters credited Maresca with giving them a simple ambition from the moment he took charge – to get the best out of his group and telling them that they were going to win the title. With that approach, he may be closer to the Arteta style of assistant coaching than Lillo’s, although Guardiola could benefit from a calm head alongside him for a season that promises to relentless again.

Maresca would also help those youngsters on the fringes of the first team develop, having worked with the likes of Cole Palmer, Liam Delap, James McAtee and Romeo Lavia before. All four have been linked with loan or permanent exits at different stages of the summer, but could also continue their current roles of supporting first team training and attempting to play as many games as possible.

Whether it is Maresca or someone else, though, Lillo’s off-field impact (and Arteta’s before that) shows how important it will be to get the next assistant appointment spot on. It is likely to be the most important signing City make all summer.

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