MANCHESTER — Pep Guardiola has urged Manchester City fans and his players to believe they can compete with the best teams in the world.
The Spaniard said City had made huge strides in recent years — wining two Premier League titles and three domestic cup competitions following the arrival of Sheikh Mansour in 2008.
City also reached the semifinals of the Champions League last season before losing to Real Madrid, who went onto win the trophy.
And Guardiola says the supporters now need to believe they are able to compete with the leading sides in Europe and can do so on a regular basis.
“I want to help the club to believe they are good, I want the fans to feel they are good. Sometimes in the past they didn’t believe — they didn’t win many titles like the other clubs,” Guardiola told a news conference ahead of the FA Cup tie with West Ham United on Friday.
“In the last decade, 15 years, Chelsea, for example, won more titles than Manchester City but it doesn’t mean it’s not good. I want the players, the fans, the more here at Manchester City to know they are good enough and good enough to compete with the other clubs in the world.
“We showed in Europe last season when we arrived in the semifinals in Europe [and this season] we beat the best team in the world Barcelona in my opinion.
“I just want to produce optimism — to believe we can do this. Because I was in Barcelona and Bayern Munich and I know exactly what it means for all the people there who believe we can do that.
“When I said stay in the Champions League for a long time it’s more important than winning a title, what it means for the self-confidence for the future. How many times did I say that argument in a positive way? Never did I say or complain the club is not good enough, never did I say that and never I will.”
City are through to the last-16 of the Champions League this season and currently fourth in the Premier League — seven points behind leaders Chelsea.
However, with sixth-placed Manchester United just three points, Guardiola says his side can’t afford to take a place in next season’s Champions League for granted.
“I prefer to be worried and not make it than to be calm and relaxed that we’re going to do that, especially with these contenders,” he added.
“I think today Manchester United would be in the last season first in the Premier League after these results. So all the top six in last season would be first, which means this year is tough because last season all the teams made mistakes and now all the teams made good results and Chelsea [are] exceptional but two of them are not going to qualify for the Champions League next season.”
Guardiola said his side must improve but added that they remain in the mix for the title despite a testing first half of the season.
“The past is the past but we are one point from Arsenal and three above United and two points just below Liverpool,” he said. “The problems we have had — the sendings off, Gundogan out for six months, (but) we are (still) there.
“I know it looks like City is not quite good enough — maybe the expectations at the start was higher than the reality of where we are — but we are there we are going to try.”
Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.