Column - Has Pep cost City two titles?

AS Manchester City enter the defining week of their season, it's good to know that Pep Guardiola is "excited" to be going back to Wembley. It's also reassuring to hear the great man say that if he doesn't win anything he'll be "a failure".

Wembley is where he has enjoyed two of his greatest successes, winning the European Cup both as a player under the twin towers and as a manager, even more gloriously, in the new stadium in 2011. The latter victory, with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi mesmerising Fergie's United, was Peak Pep. It has been downhill ever since.

Not off-a-cliff downhill, but the trajectory has been remorselessly southward. This week affords him a chance to stem the slide with progress in the Champions League (where he holds a 5-3 lead over Monaco) and cementing a top four EPL spot (against Liverpool).

We never thought we'd be saying this but he needs to. After that last Wembley triumph, he conceded the Spanish title to Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid and got knocked out of the Champions League by 10-man Chelsea. Then he took a sabbatical.

Four years in the pressure cooker of the Nou Camp had taken its toll and he went to New York for a year to recover, be anonymous and improve his English. Then he sold English clubs a massive dummy by going to Bayern Munich and winning the Bundesliga three years in a row. But Old Big Ears eluded him. Debate still rages in Germany over whether he was a success or a failure.

Debate is raging in Manchester now and he's been there under nine months. But it feels like much longer. Appointed on Feb 1 last year, the Pep effect was immediate: City stopped playing for Manuel Pellegrini.

The Chilean has since admitted it was a mistake to let the cat out of the bag so early but rumours were already rife. With hindsight, we can see that it did to City what Fergie's aborted retirement did to United back in 2001. "The biggest mistake of my career," the Scot called it.

City were mindful of that but felt that announcing Pep would be a positive. Surely, they reasoned, the players would up their game to impress the incoming manager.

A footballer's mind can be as difficult to fathom as quantum physics in ancient Greek and the opposite happened. City needed penalties to scrape past Liverpool to win the League Cup but in the three other competitions, the players basically downed tools.

The Premier League was there for the taking as none of the other Big Boys were on song, but Leicester were allowed a free run and won the title by 10 points. No one was playing for a manager who had been a dead man walking for nearly half the season.

The FA Cup surrender was even more abject, Pellegrini fielding a pre-pubescent side because of a fixture clash and losing 5-1 at Chelsea. A season of monumental under-achievement was rounded off when City didn't show up in the Champions League semifinal with Real Madrid.

But City could afford to write off 2015-16 as they had snared the prize catch. The messiah was coming and all would be well. With a budget to match expectations, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, refusals and injuries for a start. Leonardo Bonucci, Aymeric Laporte, Hector Bellerin and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all stayed put. Ilkay Gundogan came but missed the start of the season, then got injured again – for the rest of the season.

John Stones, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus (in January) also came but Jesus is now out for the season. Yes, Pep has had rotten luck with injuries – most of all with Vincent Kompany who has gone from captain, leader, legend to liability.

But however much sympathy Pep is due on that score, the biggest single factor in the whole campaign was when Pep replaced Joe Hart, among the top five keepers in world football, with a clown.

There is no other way to describe the fumbling efforts of Claudio Bravo that have at times bordered on farce. Not only does he treat saving shots as if it's not in his contract, he makes Dracula look sound on crosses. And although a tad better than Hart with his feet, he's no Colin Bell.

This, above all else, has undermined City, shaking an already rickety centreback pairing in Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. A top keeper is always said to be worth 10 points a season – and that's compared to an average keeper. Bravo is well below average but 10 points is the difference between City and Chelsea right now.

Pep has also bewildered with his team selection – he gave up on the title with his team against Stoke – playing people out of position and tactics. In truth, only in the first half against United, second half against Barcelona and at West Ham in the Cup, have City looked like a Pep side. He got off to a flying start but we can see now that covered a multitude of sins.

His overall record is unsurpassed and he presided over some of the finest football we've ever had the privilege to watch at Barca, but an entire season is a long learning curve – Mourinho, Ancelotti and now Conte have all done it as rookies. And no one has had more help or a bigger budget than Pep.

Right now you'd say City have to win the Champions League to avoid this season being called a failure. The FA Cup won't do it just as the League Cup didn't last season. Had the popular Pellegrini been allowed to carry on managing properly, he might have done it last season. And this season, he would not have let Hart leave. Who knows?

But we do know that City, having appointed the Catalans Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to help persuade Pep to come, have been Pep-obsessed for years and have wasted fortunes on duds in the transfer market. Garry Cook used to do both their jobs and bought Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure.

Now, if Pep remains pig-headed over the keeper issue and can't cope with English football's unique demands, it could all be in vain.

This column wishes him well but can't help feeling that the obsession with him may have already cost City two titles. At least.