What will motivate Pep Guardiola and Man City next season?

LONDON — Huddled with a couple of reporters in a small side room at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah last December, Pep Guardiola was told by a member of Manchester City‘s staff he would have to fulfil a contractual obligation for the Premier League by answering a couple of questions about an upcoming game against Everton.

He had just lifted the FIFA Club World Cup — his fifth trophy of 2023 — and looking content but emotionally drained he was in no mood to talk about what might await on a cold winter night at Goodison Park.

“Please, not Everton!” he said with an exacerbated half-smile, the implication being that he couldn’t bear to think about a return to the grind of the England’s top-flight.

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A few minutes earlier he had sat in the news conference theatre and said that winning the Club World Cup had “closed a chapter.” His words were delivered in such a way that City staff in the room thought, for a brief but panicked moment, that he was about to quit on the spot. For those listening, it felt like a resignation speech without the resignation.

In the end, Guardiola found the motivation to think about Everton — City won 3-1 five days after their success in Saudi Arabia — and lead his team to a record fourth successive title, secured with a 3-1 win over West Ham United on the final day of the season.

Speaking after yet another title triumph, the word “motivation” came up again.

“Last year, after [completing the treble in] Istanbul, I said: ‘It’s over, there’s nothing left,'” Guardiola recalled. “But I have a contract and I start to think: ‘No one has done four in a row, why don’t we try?’

“And now I feel it’s done, so what next? Now I don’t know what exactly the motivation is because it’s difficult to find it when everything is done.”

His motivation in the week following West Ham was to become the first manager in English football history to win the league title and the FA Cup in successive seasons. That dream ended with the surprise 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Wembley on Saturday, but the question afterwards remains the same. What is Guardiola’s motivation to carry on?

Since he arrived at the Etihad Stadium in 2016, City have won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups, the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup. They’ve won a treble, a domestic treble, two league and cup doubles and become the first English team to win four titles in a row. There’s nothing left for Guardiola to achieve.

In the wake of lifting another Premier League last week, he admitted he’s “tired” and said he’s “closer to leaving than staying.” City staff have been keen to stress that, after eight years in Manchester, he was simply stating a fact that he’s closer to the end of his career at the club than the beginning rather than casting doubt on his future beyond this summer.

The reality is that, after four years as Barcelona manager and three in charge of Bayern Munich, Guardiola never intended to stay at City so long. The end of his trophy-laden reign is coming, and the only question left is when will he bow out?

Man City insist they have had no indication from Guardiola that he won’t honour his contract, which has another season left to run. They would like him to sign a new deal and take his reign past 10 years but there’s no pressure, and Guardiola will be given the freedom to decide how and when he leaves.

There’s little left for him to tick off in club football, but he does still hold an ambition to manage a national team at a major tournament.

There’s a World Cup in the United States — a place Guardiola is fond of — in 2026 and another in Spain, Portugal and Morocco in 2030 and he has been linked with jobs with Brazil and England in the past. The Three Lions, who could be looking for a new coach after the European Championship if Gareth Southgate decides to step away, have made no secret of their desire to appoint Guardiola if the opportunity presents itself.

Guardiola has become a calmer manager since starting out with Barcelona in 2007 and he was philosophical after Saturday’s defeat to United saying that “in football and life you win and lose.”

Rather than poring over the result at Wembley during the summer break, he has decisions to make about what comes next. Does he have the same motivation to return to the training ground in July ready for another gruelling season? Does the thought of another Champions League and a fifth successive Premier League title inspire enough of his competitive spirit to start over?

By Guardiola’s own admission, his time at City is coming to an end. The question is when, and only he knows the answer.