KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Manchester City are probably the wealthiest club in European if not world football. But that is no guarantee of success. Their long trek to the club’s first Champions League final proves the point.
Since 2008 the club’s Abu Dhabi owners bought a selection of the world’s best players and then added the game’s top coach, in Pep Guardiola, to bring the best out of them. Yet building a football skyscraper has taken him a full further five years.
The journey has not been a smooth one with a need for victories both on and off the pitch.
In February 2020 UEFA banned City from European competition for two years for committing “serious breaches” of the European federation’s financial fair play regulations between 2012 and 2016.
The threat of suspension hung over the club while football was at a standstill because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
July 2020 saw City lose their Premier League crown to runaway leaders Liverpool but there was happy consolation in victory over UEFA.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that most of the alleged breaches were not established or time-bound. CAS quashed the suspension and cut the initial fine of €30m to €10m.
Guardiola had stayed outwardly calm during the long wait for justice. But the private pressure was revealed in his reaction to the CAS verdict.
He said: “I’m incredibly happy for this decision which shows what all the people said about the club was not true. Now we defend what we have done on the pitch.”
City have achieved all that and more in regaining the Premier League crown, winning a fourth successive League Cup and reaching the Champions League final at last after completing their semi-final dismissal of Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.
This progress to Istanbul has been impressive.
City have won all their last seven UEFA Champions League matches which is the longest winning run by an English club in Champions Cup history. They are also the first English side to win 11 games in a single Champions campaign. City are the ninth different English team to reach the final which is three more than both Germany and Italy.
Guardiola will be returning to the final for the first time since he won in 2011 with Barcelona.
He arrived at City in 2016 and has won nine domestic trophies while becoming the first manager to win the domestic treble in 2019. The Champions League always eluded him. In 2017 City fell in the round of 16 and then in the quarter-finals in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Guardiola appeared to succumb to increasing pressure in Europe. He surprised even his own players with some of his team and tactical changes for one-off games. The difference this season is that he has kept faith with his best players in their best positions.
He has been assisted by the team’s runaway lead in the Premier League. This means he has been able to rotate his squad in domestic competition to keep his stars fresh for the pressures of the Champions League.
Guardiola said: “We are in the final of the Champions League. Those are nice words to say. I am incredibly proud of everyone at the club. People always believe that because of what happened in the past we have to arrive every season in the final of the Champions League but to reach the final is so difficult.
“We had an incredible season, winning 11 of our 12 games so we deserve to be there.”
“It’s the toughest one because of the quality of the opponents and the composure you have to show, but we did it. I think reaching the final has made a bigger picture of what we’ve done in my five years as manager.”