Man City’s Akanji on Guardiola, treble repeat, ‘dirty wins’

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MANCHESTER, England — Manuel Akanji sits in a room at Manchester City’s training ground surrounded by pictures of him lifting the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. The question is whether, after winning the treble in his first season following a £15m move from Borussia Dortmund in 2022, you can find the same hunger for success by already achieving the near-impossible.

It’s delivered with a smile when the answer comes, but there’s nothing funny about the sentiment behind it: City and Akanji haven’t won.

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“I didn’t win the Carabao Cup and we didn’t win it this year so I hope I can make it happen,” Akanji said in an exclusive interview with ESPN. “The Community Shield too, we missed that. We had a really good season. It doesn’t get much better than that, winning the treble in the first year. It was really good.”

It doesn’t quite do it justice. In almost a quarter of a century, City became the first English side to win the treble and claim the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. The celebrations, which included an open-top bus parade through a rain-soaked Manchester, lasted for most of the summer, but now the 2023-24 season is in full swing and a new target has already been set for its second season. Etihad Stadium.

“To repeat it,” he says. “If we don’t win, it will be disappointing. I want to win every trophy again.”

“It’s really difficult to do the treble but, yes, our aim is to win it every year. Of course we will be disappointed if, let’s say, we lose in the quarter-finals of the Champions League because we want to go. Finals and we want to play for these trophies but sometimes the opposition is good. Either that or our performance wasn’t good enough.

“But I think everyone in the team wants to go into every game to win it and that’s why we’re always disappointed when we lose a game. We want to win the treble again,” added Akanji.

Already European champions and Super Cup winners against Europa League winners Sevilla in August, City can be crowned the world’s best club team if they win the Club World Cup in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in December. Pep Guardiola’s side are also looking to win a fourth consecutive Premier League title, but all success has a downside, the Catalan coach spelled out to his players during the first team meeting of the summer in July.

“He said it was going to be harder,” Akanji recalled. “After a year like that, to do it again and win this title because a lot of people will expect it from us now because they will say we are the best team in Europe and we have to prove it in every game. Every team is going to come for us and it will be easy. no

“Maybe already because City have won the Premier League so many times and every team is meeting us and they want to beat us. Now there is probably a bigger motivation.”

They have already discovered how difficult this season is going to be, losing three times in four games in late September and early October. City have bounced back with five straight wins, but their next three Premier League matches, against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, will test their title credentials. That bodes ill for other challenges City already have at the top of the table.

“It will be challenging,” Akanji said. “That’s what we want to win these games. We lost against Arsenal and we weren’t happy about it. It’s not easy and we know we can do better. We knew we had to react and I think we did that. “We’re on the right track now. I am

“If we go into games and play our best, we’re really hard to beat. We know we have to be at our best because if we let it slip a little bit, there are teams out there waiting. There’s a lot. There are good teams in the league so we have to be at our best. .”

City have mastered silky, possession-based football, according to the defender, in what Akanji might call “dirty wins” for a run of tough matches either side of the international break. There’s a beauty to Guardiola’s squad but also a brawn that can sometimes go under-appreciated.

Akanji said, “It is impossible to be the best in every sport. “Sometimes you have to adjust and sometimes when you don’t play your best you have to win a dirty one. But that’s the most important thing, when you’re not at your best. , we know what we can do but when we’re not at our best. It is more challenging to win then. That’s how you win this title.

“Let’s talk about the Champions League final because we weren’t at our best. Inter could have scored two or three goals but you need this kind of game to win this trophy.”

With tests coming thick and fast against some of the Premier League’s best sides over the next month, it helps City turn to a manager who doesn’t really know how to lose. According to Akanji, Guardiola’s influence on his players was so great that even though he arrived at the Etihad as an experienced international defender from Switzerland, he had to relearn the game almost from scratch.

“Of course!” He laughs, when asked if Guardiola’s management makes players question what they know about football. “I think you can feel it when you go to the national team and play with other players who weren’t with him. You can learn a lot with him.

“At the beginning it makes you a little nervous. It’s demanding but that’s what I’m here for. I want to get better every day and I want to win the games I play. He’ll let you know it’s not just football. It’s about me as a person. . My son was born a few days after I signed here and I asked him if I could go to Switzerland and he said, ‘Yes, take your time and come back when you’re ready.’ For him, it’s not just about football and that makes it easy to be here.”

A full trophy cabinet after just one year in Manchester also helped, but Akanji and City were yet to win.

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