Pep Guardiola has declared there is space at Manchester City for Benjamin Mendy’s sense of humour, as long as he maintains focus on the pitch.
Left-back Mendy is aiming to build some momentum at City after missing much of last season with a knee ligament injury sustained against Crystal Palace last September.
He returned to action in April, in time to make France’s squad for their World Cup-winning campaign in Russia, where he played once, in the final group match against Denmark in Moscow.
Mendy has started the season by playing in two City victories, 2-0 over Chelsea in the Community Shield then Arsenal, by the same score, in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium last Sunday.
Guardiola, though, was critical of Mendy’s positioning against Arsenal, saying that “sometimes you want to kill him; sometimes you want to say, Wow, what a player we have”.
He also suggested that the defender should cut down on his prolific and humorous use of social media.
However, City’s manager has acknowledged that Mendy’s high spirits do plenty to keep his City team-mates in a good mood.
“He’s a nice person. He has a big heart. What we want is to help him to be focused in every training session and every game,” Guardiola said.
“In the locker room, having people such as Benjamin Mendy is so important for our environment.
“It’s important to have guys who make the other guys laugh and make good moments.
“In the last game, he played well, and it is not easy after one year out injured.
“In the World Cup, he played one game and then after that did not play. Then he came here and played.
“He gives us something extra, as I’ve said so many times. So it’s good that he is back and he can play.”
– Emerging Foden –
Guardiola, meanwhile, has promised to follow Johan Cruyff’s example by giving Phil Foden the space to grow into an influential player at City.
Foden, an England youth international, has impressed Guardiola by emerging from City’s academy system to become part of the senior squad.
The 18-year-old midfielder, who has made five Premier League appearances, performed well from the start as Chelsea were beaten in the Community Shield.
He is likely to get more first-team opportunities, perhaps as soon as Sunday’s league home match against Huddersfield, with Kevin De Bruyne out until the end of November.
Guardiola has pledged to help Foden’s career development in the same way that he was supported as a young midfielder at Barcelona by Cruyff in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Dutch great Cruyff, Barca’s manager at the time, persuaded the board of directors to keep Guardiola even though he appeared to lack physical strength, defensive awareness and aerial ability.
“Cruyff in that period always focused on the quality, the quality, the quality. It didn’t matter about the weight and the size,” he said.
“And if a player has it with the skills in terms of quality and technique, he (Cruyff) had a lot of courage to say, OK, you play.” “He (Foden) is strong. He’s a box-to-box player who runs a lot. And this season, he is stronger than last season, so give him time.
“In one, two, three seasons, he will be stronger still than now. You need the process to grow. That will not be a problem.
“That’s why the focus at that age is on technique as the most important thing.”