Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is now on the verge of greatness – after previous failures in Europe
The sheer relief, but also the sheer joy, was palpable in the aftermath.
Pep Guardiola had – finally – led Manchester City to the biggest game in club football when his irresistible side abandoned PSG’s challenge at the Etihad on Tuesday night.
“I am incredibly proud,” said the City boss. ‘Everyone has contributed. There is something in the stars involved …
Man City finally got over their knockout hoodoo and reached the Champions League final
It is the first time that Pep Guardiola has reached the Champions League final in 10 years
PEP’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TROUBLES (AFTER 2011)
Barcelona – SFs (2012)
Bayern Munich – SFs (2014, 2015, 2016)
Man City – R16 (2017), QF’s (2018, 2019, 2020)
Reaching the finals helps with the bigger picture of the past four years, to understand what we’ve been doing.
“That’s unfair, but it is what it is.”
It may be unfair, but there is no doubt that Guardiola’s reputation as one of the best coaches ever was somewhat disguised by his decade-long failures in Europe, especially given the resources at his disposal.
The problems were all the more remarkable given his Champions League record during his first three years in management: won, semifinals, won again.
Those last victories in particular, first in Rome and then in Wembley, against Manchester United were so decisive and overpowering that it seemed no one could stop Pep’s tiki-taka football.
In the years that followed, Guardiola mysteriously failed to overcome the bump of Champions League knockout football.
In 2012 it was a penalty from Lionel Messi and missed Which Fernando Torres’ goal that made his Barcelona team miss Chelsea in the semi-final, and Guardiola called it a day in Catalonia not long after.
After a year out, it was headed to Bayern Munich, where a string of domestic successes – three times in a row – was soured by heartbreak in the Champions League semi-finals.
Firstly Real Madrid in 2014. Trailing 1-0 ahead of the Munich home game, the reigning champions were arguably favorites with two-time winner Guardiola at the helm.
But a quick Sergio Ramos double, followed by two more goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, made it a night to forget for the Spanish coach, on perhaps the most humiliating day of his career to date.
Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo each scored twice to knock out Pep’s Bayern in 2014
A year later, it was former club Barca – and protagonist Messi – who quit Guardiola.
This was when the Argentinian lit up the Camp Nou and scored twice, including a memorable solo effort when he turned Jerome Boateng inside out before thinking about Manuel Neuer.
It was a star-studded Barca team – and that famous MSN offensive trio of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Maybe Pep can be excused then. He lost it to two Spanish giants, perhaps at the height of their strength.
However, the 2016 exit against Atletico Madrid marked the start of five years of Champions League failures that, in a tie, would have shocked the Guardiola system.
Despite constant success domestically, Guardiola struggled for success with Bayern in Europe
Simeone got the upper hand in targeting that year. One, like many, who escaped.
He has been the greatest villain of his time in Manchester. In 2017, his underdeveloped side was second best against Monaco in the round of 16 – a draw notable for Kylian Mbappé’s arrival on the biggest stage.
However, it was a shock. Semi-finalists the year before, City had failed to eradicate the European curse. This was not the start Guardiola had expected.
The years since were even more difficult to bear, given City’s invincible record in the Premier League.
In 2018 they were blown away by the counterattack of football at best from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the quarter-finals.
Liverpool and Mo Salah won Guardiola’s City in the quarterfinals in 2018
Documented in the Everything or nothing documentary, Guardiola admitted he feared the Reds, and their front three of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
And it turned out that his City squad could not handle them, neither in the first nor in the second leg.
A year later, Tottenham was the English opposition in the last eight. A strange team selection in the first game, as well as 10 bizarre opening minutes of the second game, saw the draw slip away from Pep’s team.
But even then, they had gotten it back with Raheem Sterling’s injury-time winner, only for VAR – the freshest concept back then – to rule it out for a marginal build-up offside.
Guardiola dropped to his knees – would his time on the biggest stages ever come?
Mauricio Pochettino celebrates with his Spurs squad in 2019 after shaking City in the Etihad
Guardiola looked dumbfounded about full-time two years ago as success in Europe slipped by
Maybe 2019/20 and an unusual last-eight, one-legged match in Lisbon? No, then not.
A shocking loss to Lyon, again due to a combination of bad luck and blatantly wasted openings – Sterling’s open goal comes to mind – saw Guardiola crash out of the quarterfinals for the third straight year.
But City’s time has finally come.
They have not had an easy time either, as the German duo Gladbach and Dortmund made for difficult encounters in the knockout phase.
Guardiola’s side were devastated after being eliminated by Lyon in the last eight last season
Yet they were both ripely pushed aside. However, it all came together against PSG.
He got his team squad great on the money, picking the most in-form players from a squad of unparalleled talent.
Every City player was a star on Tuesday. Something similar on May 29 in Istanbul and City become European champions.
But only then will Guardiola – and a potential third European crown – enter the pantheon of greatness.