Three Man City stars who didn’t leave are Pep Guardiola’s best transfer window outcome

“No bad faces.”

It is not as famous a Pep Guardiola mantra as “Take the ball, pass the ball” but it is just as central to his coaching philosophy – a key pillar in constructing sides that rumble into record-breaking winning runs and compete for honours on all fronts.

“If they have bad faces, bad moods or want to show how disappointed they are, they will have big problems because they are not going to play,” he warned his City players in October 2018, five months after lifting the first Premier League title of his tenure. By the end of the season, City had retained their title and won an unprecedented domestic treble.

This does not mean Guardiola expects the unswerving obedience of “school boys”, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic once witheringly observed of his great Barcelona squad. But the intensity and relentlessness of what he demands from his players means unhappy players risk derailing everything.

In the final weeks before the transfer window closed, this started to look like a problem.

“Not just Bernardo, there are two, three or four players that want to leave,” Guardiola said before the Community Shield when asked about Bernardo Silva ’s future at the club.

“But they are our players under contract and when they bring some offer and their agents come here and they want to leave, we are open to discuss absolutely everything. But it depends on them.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Bernardo Silva of Manchester City is seen wearing a face mask as he arrives at the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on August 15, 2021 in London, England.
LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 15: Bernardo Silva of Manchester City is seen wearing a face mask as he arrives at the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on August 15, 2021 in London, England.

Ultimately, the agents of those players were not able to come up with the goods. Gabriel Jesus and Aymeric Laporte were widely thought to be among the wantaway group after frustrating individual seasons in 2020/21.

However, with the transfer window closed, the picture looks altogether different for the trio, who are in the team and playing well as the goal pile up.

Jesus has had plenty to do with this. Last season, City’s number nine kicked his heels as second choice behind a succession of false nines, his once-presumed status as Sergio Aguero’s heir no longer a claim anyone could seriously make.

In the 5-0 wins over Norwich and Arsenal, the Brazil international has been City’s standout forward player – scoring once and creating four more from his new position on the right-wing.

Jesus is a player revitalised and Guardiola has laid it on thick.

“He can play in three positions up-front, he does absolutely everything for his mates for one minute or 90 minutes – it doesn’t matter how many minutes he plays,” the City boss said before the Arsenal game, once again hailing the 24-year-old as the best in the world in terms of pressing and his work off the ball.

“That is why it’s a joy. I’m lucky that Manchester City got him for a good price when he was young.”

Gabriel Jesus sent Man City a timely reminder of his worth against Norwich City and Arsenal.

Laporte was the odd man out last season as Ruben Dias and John Stones forged a brilliant partnership at centre-back. This was the most obvious source of his disquiet.

Guardiola has never gone out of his way to highlight Laporte as one of the “no bad faces” gang – as he has with Bernardo and Jesus – which feels kind of instructive.

Yet, he has similarly labelled Laporte as best in class throughout world football, specifically in relation to his ability to build up from the back as a left-footed central defender.

Laporte is the man in possession again, with Stones not match fit, and was at his Rolls Royce best against Norwich and Arsenal, even weighing in with a goal against Norwich and doing everything he could to add to that tally at the expense of the beleaguered Gunners.

Both Laporte and Jesus are popular figures at the Etihad Stadium, that much was clear over the past two weekends. But they’ve got nothing on Bernardo, whose rapturous reception when he was substituted against Arsenal felt like a plea to stick around.

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The Portugal playmaker is a different case as he was not short of game time last season. He simply wants a change of scenery and a fresh challenge. On Saturday, Guardiola said his main wish was for Bernardo’s “happiness” – a player he adores.

His stellar showings in Kevin De Bruyne’s injury absence show that, even if he is unsettled off the pitch, Bernardo’s commitment and excellence on the field are unlikely to waver.

The season is long and the slog of Champions League midweeks among key games against Liverpool and Chelsea on the horizon are sure to bring a few furrowed brows.

For now, though, Guardiola has three key performers he was ready to lose back in their groove and not a bad face in sight.