Manchester City is on the brink of achieving a historic treble, and its Spanish coach, Pep Guardiola, wants to leave a lasting imprint on the European Champions League, when he plays the final on Saturday against Inter Milan.
Inter stands as an obstacle to the City equation, the most prominent achievement of English football achieved by Manchester United in 1999, when it won the Champions League, the local league and the local cup titles.
For Guardiola, a personal reckoning with a competition has slipped from his grasp for the last 12 years.
The Catalan is considered the most prominent coach of his generation, with 11 titles in the domestic league during the 14 seasons he spent at the helm of Barcelona, Spain, Bayern Munich, and City.
But since his second continental coronation in 2011, during his first three years with Barcelona, Guardiola has suffered a series of losses in the advanced roles, some of which were painful.
After a dramatic fall to Chelsea in the semi-finals, in his last year at the Camp Nou, Pep’s career stopped 3 times in the last square with Bayern Munich.
With City, he needed 5 attempts to pass the quarter-finals, then reached the final and fell in the last exam against Chelsea two years ago, to continue the club’s search for a first title in the main continental championship.
And he faced a miraculous return from Real Madrid last season, so he was shocked to bid farewell to the semi-finals.
No more “overthinking”
After Guardiola’s team lost in the 2021 final, the Catalans were accused of “overthinking” and complicating the task of his talent-rich squad.
But his tactical sense helped him compensate for a volatile start to the season, on the path to achieving a historic achievement for the blue section of Manchester.
– Manchester City (@Cityarabia) June 7, 2023
Guardiola publicly questioned last January the extent of his players’ thirst to continue winning titles, when his lethal Norwegian scorer Erling Haaland was acclimatizing on his way to scoring 52 goals in various competitions.
Many questions were raised about the reason for abandoning Portuguese Joao Cancelo during the winter transfer period, which reduced the resources of “Citizens” in the full-back position.
But Guardiola had a plan to switch to a 3-man defense, and he put the heart of defense John Stones in the midfield that Cancelo occupied in previous seasons, and the team reaped great results.
Offensive midfielder Jack Grealish said of his coach, “I can’t say enough about him. It’s strange how he knows everything. Before some matches, I ask myself a question: What will he innovate today? Then come up with different tactics in every game. It’s fun to work with him.”
However, stability was a key factor in City reaching the Istanbul final this weekend.
The same 10 players participated in the starting line-up in the last 5 Champions League matches, while the likes of the Algerian offensive front players, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden, and Argentine world champion Julian Alvares, remained on the bench.
After crushing Bayern 4-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals, City took revenge on defending champion Madrid 4-0 in the semi-final second leg in front of the ecstatic fans at the Etihad Stadium.
On the domestic level, City imposed itself as a striking force after winning the league title 5 times in the last 6 seasons.
– Manchester City (@Cityarabia) June 8, 2023
Nevertheless, Guardiola admits that the European Champions League title, which his team – owned by the Emirates – has been chasing after for years, will raise it to a different status.
He told the European Union (UEFA) website, “Many clubs have changed their projects and ideas due to their inability to win this competition, and other clubs have become major after their coronation.”
The 52-year-old coach added, “Even if I do not share this opinion, I understand that everything we made in those years, which was great and very good, will carry a different meaning to others if we win this competition.”
And the former midfielder added, “If we are not crowned, the rest of the things will have less meaning. This is somewhat unfair, but we must accept it. We have to win the Champions League, and this cannot be avoided.”
Crowning the Champions League will complete Guardiola’s project, which City brought in to achieve it 7 years ago, and will silence skeptics of his right to be among the great coaches in the history of the game.