Mauricio Pochettino wore the smile of a proud man after his Tottenham team somehow escaped with a point from the Etihad, but beneath that was the stark realisation that his club is in danger of being left behind in the Premier League arms race.
Spurs showed resilience and character, twice coming from behind as they refused to wilt in the face of overwhelming City pressure.
But the pragmatic Argentinian has always been an astute, big-picture type of leader and, as he awaits the end of the European transfer window and the possible departure of his star Christian Eriksen to Real Madrid, this was a sobering experience.
The financial chasm between Daniel Levy’s Spurs and a City team owned by a Middle East state has never been more unmanageable.
“We sign players who are young and have the potential,” said Pochettino explaining the restrictions that have been placed on him in the transfer market. Tanguy Ndombele only played two seasons at Lyon, didn’t win anything and we brought him here to try to make him a top player.
“(Giovani) Lo Celso is similar, Ryan Sessegnon is more of a potential player. When you compare that with the different teams who are in the same race as us it’s a completely different way.
People understand we are playing to try to win, but we have different resources to fight in the same race with teams that operate in a different way.
“I don’t like to complain but when Kyle Walker was at Tottenham and we sold him to Manchester City for £55m two years ago, Kyle Walker-Peters was a kid. Now we’ve sold Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker-Peters is playing.
“Maybe he was the fourth, fifth option when Kyle Walker was here so I think it’s important people realise we’re building players and that they’re still young. So it’s a process that is different when you compare it to Manchester City, to Manchester United or Arsenal, Chelsea, teams like this. They are preparing themselves to win. For us the priority was to build the new stadium and of course to win because we want to win, but I think the way we operate is completely different. I’m not complaining, only explaining that people struggle to understand what the project is at Tottenham.”
Levy and Spurs have been transparent about that process and the priority of building their magnificent new £800m stadium ahead of team building. That made Pochettino’s achievements in reaching the Champions League final three months ago all the more remarkable.
However, there is, surely, a finite shelf life on such an approach and, with Liverpool also taking strides forward, there is surely the danger that this year will see Pochettino and his squad fall even further off the pace.
“It’s not fair for the players, the club or the fans to believe we are a team that is only thinking to win and taste glory because we are different,” he said.
Of course after five years we got to the final of the Champions League, but I think it’s because we work so hard and were lucky at some points. We’re in a process where every season is a rebuild of the team, every season is a rebuilding season.
“I am so happy because that makes us stronger and to be creative. But of course it’s tough because all the staff work so hard to try to provide a good dynamic and balance to help them to improve, to give them the tools. It’s massive, but it’s very exciting that project.”
Spurs’ problems this summer have been exacerbated by the Premier League decision to bring forward the domestic transfer window while the European one remains in early September. That switch was voted for by Levy and now leaves Spurs at the mercy of Real Madrid and their efforts to sign Christian Eriksen before the September 2 deadline.
Raheem Sterling’s early headed opener should have made this a routine night for City only for Erik Lamela to equalise — a feat that would be repeated in the second half when Lucas Moura levelled Sergio Aguero’s second for City with his first touch after coming off the bench in the 56th minute.
There was late drama, with Gabriel Jesus’s injury-time “winner’ ruled out for an inadvertent handball by Aymeric Laporte but, given their superiority in the shots department — 30-3 — it was staggering that City failed to win.
“We scored I don’t know how many goals last season,” said Guardiola. “I don’t have doubts we have the team to score a lot of goals.
“To have 30 or so shots we’d like to score five or six, we play for that, but it is what it is. Of course we have to improve but I don’t have any doubts we will.”
MAN CITY (4-3-3)
Ederson 6; Walker 6, Laporte 7, Otamendi 6, Zinchenko 7; B Silva 7 (Mahrez 80, 6), Rodrigo 8 (D Silva 78, 7), Gundogan 6; De Bruyne 9, Aguero 6 (Jesus 65, 8), Sterling 8.
Subs not used: Bravo, Fernandinho, Cancelo, Foden.
Lloris 6; Walkker-Peters 6, Alderweireld 7, Sanchez 6, Rose 7; Winks 6 (Moura 56, 9), Ndombele 7; Sissoko 7, Lamela 8 (Lo Celso 90), Eriksen 6 (Skipp 90); Kane 7.
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Vertonghen, Dier, Skipp, Davies.
Referee: M Oliver 8