Man City Champions League glory should not define Pep Guardiola’s brilliant tenure – Alex Brotherton
When Pep Guardiola eventually leaves Manchester City — whether that be next summer or further down the line — he will do so having led the club through the most successful period in its history.
As of today, almost six years after arriving at the club, Guardiola has guided City to three Premier League titles, four League Cups and one FA Cup. He took City to their first ever Champions League final, cracking their quarter-final hex, and could well be on the brink of another.
But if City fail to win the Champions League for a sixth season under Guardiola, will it all have been enough? If Guardiola never delivers the holy grail, or if City never win the treble or quadruple, will supporters’ thirst for success be left unquenched?
It’s a question that cuts right to the very heart of what it means to be a football fan, and indeed, what it means to play the game of football.
City are the richest club in the world, with a collection of unbelievable players coached by one of the greatest managers of all time. There is no doubt that they would not have reached where they are today without a significant level of investment on the part of Sheikh Mansour as, quite simply, having lots of money makes it easier to win.
However, the view that money automatically means unparalleled success is a view that eliminates the jeopardy, human will, unforeseen circumstances and collective efforts that are inherent in sport. If the richest team won everything every single year, then it would not be sport — and to think that they should do so is unhealthy and unrealistic.
“It’s normal, when you don’t win Premier League for years and Sergio scores a goal and you win, you want another one,” Guardiola said on Tuesday when asked if City fans should expect more than ‘just’ qualifying for the Champions League every season, a target he lists as his top objective every season.
“Of course we want more, fans want it and us too. We have to win everything, play fantastically well, score four or five goals – [but] that’s not the reality. It’s a tough business for everyone. Everyone wants to do well.
As Guardiola has said many times before, the Champions League — like every cup competition — is so unpredictable. Whereas over the course of a 38-game league campaign the best teams will rise to the top, one slip-up or poor performance in a knockout game can result in elimination. Sometimes, it comes down to will over money and talent.
“When [we] started the Champions League season and say you’ll reach the semi-final — [I would] sign right now,” Guardiola admitted. “PSG, Leipzig, always difficult. Every game we win in the group I’m happy. Once we are here, we’re focused on Real Madrid but I wouldn’t say if we don’t reach the final it’s not good. I respect my players and the opponent.”
Guardiola is right. Last season City were three wins shy of winning an unprecedented quadruple, so should the campaign be regarded as a failure? This year City are locked into a thrilling title battle with Liverpool, a side that have now not lost a league game in four months.
If City are denied Premier League or Champions League glory by such a brilliant team, then that doesn’t suddenly make their season a failure by default.
It’s a well-worn cliché, but ultimately football comes down to 22 players kicking a ball around a pitch. Of course Guardiola came to City to win trophies and bring the club a first Champions League crown, but he also came to share his footballing ideas, a way of playing not seen in this country before and to entertain supporters with beautiful football.
If your enjoyment of football is dictated by whether your team has won every trophy available, then you have already lost.