Soccer

Juanma Lillo in focus as he takes charge of Man City in Pep Guardiola’s absence

Juanma Lillo will oversee Manchester City for their next two matches (Mike Egerton/PA)
Juanma Lillo will oversee Manchester City for their next two matches (Mike Egerton/PA) Juanma Lillo will oversee Manchester City for their next two matches (Mike Egerton/PA)

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will miss his side’s next two matches after undergoing “emergency” back surgery on Tuesday.

City said the operation was a “success” but his convalescence in Barcelona means assistant Juanma Lillo will take charge for their games against Sheffield United on Sunday and Fulham on September 2.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at the 57-year-old Spaniard.

Started his coaching career early

Juanma Lillo was in his mid-teens when he began his coaching career (Shaun Botterill/PA)
Juanma Lillo was in his mid-teens when he began his coaching career (Shaun Botterill/PA) Juanma Lillo was in his mid-teens when he began his coaching career (Shaun Botterill/PA)

While Lillo has no playing experience to draw upon, his coaching career started when he was only 16 years old after joining his local side Amaroz KE in the Basque region of northern Spain. He remained there for four years before taking charge of hometown club Tolosa CF in the Spanish fourth tier.

Called up to the big leagues

Lillo got his big break in the early 1990s (Mike Egerton/PA)
Lillo got his big break in the early 1990s (Mike Egerton/PA) Lillo got his big break in the early 1990s (Mike Egerton/PA)

After several years in the lower reaches of the Spanish pyramid, Lillo got his big break at Salamanca in 1992, guiding them from the third division all the way to LaLiga in three years. As a result he became the Spanish top-flight’s youngest-ever coach at the time, aged just 29. He was sacked with Salamanca languishing in the relegation zone, prompting an outcry among fans. The club were unable to avoid an immediate return to the Segunda Division but Lillo’s profile was raised significantly.

Spreading his wings

Lillo, centre, has worked in a number of countries (Nick Potts/PA)
Lillo, centre, has worked in a number of countries (Nick Potts/PA) Lillo, centre, has worked in a number of countries (Nick Potts/PA)

After nearly two-and-a-half decades of exclusively working in his native Spain, Lillo headed for Mexican side Dorados de Sinaloa in the mid-2000s. One of the players under his command was Guardiola, who was at the back end of his glittering playing career. Lillo has had the travelling bug ever since, having taken charge of sides in Colombia, Japan, China and Qatar, while he was understudy to Jorge Sampaoli with the Chile national team and is now into his second stint under Guardiola at City.

Kindred spirits with Guardiola

Lillo first moved to the Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2020, replacing the outgoing Mikel Arteta, after guiding Qingdao Huanghai to promotion to the top-tier Chinese Super League. He left ahead of City’s treble-winning campaign last season to take up a head coach role with Al Sadd but came back to City earlier this month. Director of football Txiki Begiristain said: “His vision is totally aligned with Pep’s. They both love this game and want their teams to produce high-quality, attacking football.”

Details, details, details

Lillo, right, has been hailed by Pep Guardiola, centre, for his diligence (Dave Thompson/PA)
Lillo, right, has been hailed by Pep Guardiola, centre, for his diligence (Dave Thompson/PA) Lillo, right, has been hailed by Pep Guardiola, centre, for his diligence (Dave Thompson/PA)

How highly Lillo is valued came to light before he was given a temporary promotion by City, with Guardiola expected to be back in the dugout in the middle of next month following the international break. Guardiola was effusive in his praise when Lillo returned to the north-west, drawing attention to his assiduous nature, saying: “Juanma sees things no-one else in the game sees. He understands football on an incredible level, so he is the perfect person for me to work alongside. His preparation for matches is absolutely amazing. I know he will raise standards because he works so hard every single day.”