Guardiola’s big gamble paid off — in the nick of time

MANCHESTER, England — In an instant, Steven N’Zonzi was at rock bottom. On the campaign, his stock has risen.

The bloke Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola once labelled as “an Arsenal player,” something N’Zonzi, laughing through his tears Tuesday, called “his old nickname.”

Then he scored.

A goal that rescued his good name. City’s missed chance. City’s awful season.

And a goal that ended West Ham’s season, for exactly the moment.

But in terms of the many individual points N’Zonzi has racked up for City — primarily the points for not conceding goals — this was a turning point.

N’Zonzi’s goal in City’s 2-1 win was a statement, not only because of the club’s fortunes throughout the campaign, but also because of the teenager last year who has grown into an important part of Guardiola’s side.

N’Zonzi, 27, has quietly gone about his work this season, often working the bare minimum of seven games a week.

City manager Pep Guardiola showed his delight with this news ahead of Saturday’s final game against West Ham.

Thirteen games into his brief stay with City, Guardiola had already seen N’Zonzi excel.

But a long run-in, plus a spate of injuries, meant Guardiola failed to see just how well the Frenchman had come to adapt to life at the Etihad Stadium.

Now, after 14 games, N’Zonzi is a regular in Guardiola’s starting line-up.

And West Ham’s dreadful season is over.

N’Zonzi’s simple goal on Tuesday was out of the norm for City’s top performers this season.

Everton forward Kevin Mirallas epitomized City’s form throughout March when he said: “There’s no logical reason we are top in the league.”

But 10 points clear at the top, the lack of reason never mattered, and the lack of sense of urgency went largely overlooked.

Facing surprise packages Crystal Palace in the cup on Saturday, City players made a collective decision they wanted to finish the season on a high.

And N’Zonzi, who had become a key player under Guardiola’s tutelage, ran down the clock, holding on for the victory that secured City’s championship, N’Zonzi summed up the day.

“Our ambition was to win this game and to finish the season on a good note,” N’Zonzi said.

N’Zonzi will never be an official Manchester City legend, but to complete a memorable season on a high, he said he felt “like it was our most important game of the season” — and, to be fair, it was.

City is expected to sign a player or two during the summer transfer window to add to a squad that has successfully recovered from last season’s title — a campaign when it won 12 of the 19 games it played.

In a passionate press conference Tuesday, Guardiola called for stability.

“We must have some continuity in our structure, but also we need some new faces,” he said.

Alvaro Morata is another striker who reportedly has attracted City’s attention.

Chelsea, too, is waiting on a resolution from N’Zonzi’s former club Sevilla, who reportedly want a better deal, or the player will play on until a move closer to Spain can be worked out.

N’Zonzi said nothing could bring his life back to normal.

“I am still trying to come to terms with what has happened, but I am trying to move on,” he said.

“I have no chance to make up my mind.”

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