Manchester City are on the verge of completing a historic triple, and Pep Guardiola will be looking for vindication in the Champions League final this coming Saturday against Inter Milan.
Inter stands in the way of Manchester City’s attempt to duplicate the greatest ever accomplishment in English football by imitating Manchester United’s class of 1998–1999 and winning the Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League in the same season. This would match Manchester United’s achievement of winning all three titles in the same year.
In the meanwhile, after a drought of 12 years in the tournament, Guardiola is looking forward to Istanbul, where he will have the opportunity to experience a moment of personal validation.
The Catalan is considered by many to be the best coach of his time. In just 14 seasons, he won 11 league titles while in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and City.
But since Guardiola won the Champions League for the second time in his first three years at Barcelona in 2011, the club has been eliminated from European competition on many occasions, which has been excruciating for Guardiola.
After suffering a heartbreaking loss in the semi-finals against Chelsea in his final season at Camp Nou, Pep Guardiola’s three seasons as head coach of Bayern Munich were tarnished by three additional losses in the final four.
At City, it took him five attempts only to make it to the quarterfinals; yet, in the final against Chelsea two years ago, he once again came just short of winning.
More agony was visited upon City in the semi-final match of the previous season when Real Madrid staged a spectacular late comeback.
“Overthinking” is no longer an option.
Guardiola’s team selection that resulted in the loss of the 2021 final was just one of a series of instances in which he has been accused of “overthinking” and coming in the way of an exceptionally gifted group of players.
But his strategic acumen has shined through, turning what had been a difficult season up until February into what may be the best season the club has ever had.
In January, Guardiola publicly questioned his players’ will to continue winning championships, and it took the squad some time to adjust to having Erling Haaland play up front, despite the fact that the Norwegian forward has scored 52 goals and has been productive from the beginning of his career.
After deciding to get go of Joao Cancelo during the transfer window in January, many people questioned the choice, which left City in a severe need of natural full-backs.
A conversion to a back three, in which center defender John Stones was pushed forward into the midfield role that Cancelo had held in previous seasons, triggered a devastating run of form for the team, but Guardiola had a plan all along and it paid off.
Jack Grealish, a winger for City, had this to say about his manager: “I can’t speak highly enough of him.”
“It’s a little bit strange how he simply seems to know everything. When I go into certain games, my first thought is always, “What kind of strategy is he going to use today?” But he always surprises me by employing a new strategy in each match. Working with him is always a joy.
However, stability has also been critical to City’s success leading up to this weekend’s game in Istanbul.
The likes of Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, and Julian Alvarez have been regularly locked out of the starting lineup for the previous five games in the Champions League. Ten players have started each of those games.
In the quarterfinals, City routed Bayern 4-1 on aggregate to advance to the semi-finals. In the semi-final second leg, City exacted its revenge on Madrid by defeating the reigning champions 4-0 at a joyous Etihad Stadium.
With five league trophies in the last six seasons, Guardiola has already established Manchester City as the preeminent power in English football.
Nevertheless, he is aware that victory in the Champions League will provide a stature that won’t be attainable by any amount of national championships.
“So many clubs have destroyed projects and ideas because they weren’t able to win this competition, and so many have become big clubs because they were able to win it,” Guardiola said in an interview with UEFA.com.
“Even though I don’t agree with this viewpoint, I am aware that if we are successful in this competition, all that we have accomplished over the course of all these years, which has been a lot and has been of a very high quality, would make perfect sense to other people.
If we aren’t successful, then everything will appear to have less of a purpose. Even if it’s not quite fair, we have no choice but to accept it. That is the way things are.
“Also, we have to come to terms with the fact that if we want to take a decisive step toward being a large club, we have to win in Europe. We can’t ignore the fact that we have to win the Champions League; it’s impossible to avoid.”
The mission that Guardiola was brought to the club to accomplish seven years ago will be finished successfully if City is crowned champion of Europe.
It would also put an end to any lingering debates over the Spanish trainer’s justification for being counted among the greatest coaches of all time.