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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak on Pep, new players and retaining the Premier League

Khaldoon Al Mubarak insists there will be no let up in Manchester City's attempts to retain the Premier League crown, saying the club has learnt valuable lessons from its previous title-winning campaigns.

City captured the 2017/18 title in record-breaking fashion, becoming the first team in English top-flight history to reach 100 points while playing an attacking brand of football that has already seen them compared to the great title-winning teams of the past such as Arsenal's "Invincibles" and Manchester United's treble winners.

City twice finished second in the seasons following their previous title triumphs, to United in 2013 and Chelsea two years later.

No club has successfully defended the Premier League title since United in 2009. Al Mubarak, the City chairman, insisted that those experiences will serve the club in good stead when they attempt to reclaim the title next season.

Asked what measures the club were taking to achieve that, Al Mubarak said that the club's recruitment strategy of signing young players was vital to ensuring manager Pep Guardiola has a squad capable of challenging for honours.

"We have real experiences, real learnings from how we manage our seasons following the last two times we've won the league," Al Mubarak said.

"We've worked hard over the last couple of years to build the squad. Not just for this season but for many seasons to come. This is a young squad, many of our most talented players are under the age of 26.

"My expectation, the management's expectation, and certainly Pep's expectation is that this team will continue to improve."

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Many will ask just how you can improve on a season that sent records tumbling. As well as setting a new points record, City were crowned champions on April 15 with a record-equaling five games to spare. Gabriel Jesus' goal against Southampton on the final day of the campaign saw City's "Centurions" extend their goals tally to 106 while also reaching a milestone of 32 wins in a season. Fifty points were secured away from home from 16 victories, both records. City won the League Cup in April following a 3-0 victory over Arsenal in the final.

So how will City guard against complacency?

"We have a manager in Pep that is relentless. There's not going to be anyone content here or relaxation I can assure you," Al Mubarak said.

"I have no doubt that this summer we are going to come back and we're going to be hungry, more aggressive and we're going to continue to grow and improve."

City spent over £275 million (Dh1.3 billion) on players in 2017/18, adding goalkeeper Ederson, defenders Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and Danilo and winger Bernardo Silva to a star-studded squad already containing the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. Al Mubarak said City would again be active in the transfer market this summer, but only if they identify the right type of player.

"Any additions have to improve the squad," Al Mubarak said. "This is my biggest learning from the years of being chairman of this club: when winning bringing in new players is a very important decision because you have a winning formula and whatever you add it has to be a decision that you don't take very lightly at all. You have to bring in players that strengthen, improve and add competition to the squad. That is key."

One key signing was announced last week with news that Guardiola has agreed to remain at the club until 2021. Al Mubarak said convincing the Catalan to sign a contract extension was a "relatively easy" conversation, and praised the City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, for his leadership.

"Pep has been a joy to have as part of this club," Al Mubarak said. "I'm delighted that Pep has committed to continue with us. Frankly, this is a product of the environment we have, of the culture we have developed in this club and of the entire organisation. From the ownership of His Highness Sheikh Mansour, he's built a fantastic relationship with everyone."