Winning the Champions League is the greatest experience that a top club, or any club in the competition, can ever have. It’s also a way to be designated as a legitimate club, the notion that by winning the trophy, you become a club that is respected by fans and players across the world. For that reason, it’s why clubs like PSG and Manchester City obsess over winning it, as they need to be seen as a “real” club.
Earlier this week, Fabrizio Romano announced that Manchester City would be signing Erling Haaland in the summer, adding one of the most promising young players to the Prem. Further showing City’s never ending desire to win the Champions League and being seen as more than an oil rich club.
Since the takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, City have sculpted their team into a perennial league winner with a reputation of signing some of the best players on Earth. Despite becoming a powerhouse in England, the Champions League has always eluded them, no matter the fortune they spend. Always making them a novelty rather than a true historic force.
This feeling, a need to be seen as something bigger than themselves, also spreads to manager Pep Guardiola. Leaving Bayern Munich for City was always going to be criticized, as the German giant is always challenging for the trophy with the big ears. Now, over 10 years since he last won the trophy, Pep’s desire for it has never been higher as his legacy is now being challenged.
Maybe Haaland’s arrival will deliver City the legitimacy it wants through the Champions League or maybe they are doomed to wander the Earth without a Champions League in their cabinet. Either way, this saga will continue to be fascinating, as City continues to throw money at the club.
If Manchester City’s total amount spent on transfer was its own country with its own GDP, it would be sandwiched between the Central African Republic and Curaço. Over 2.4 billion dollars has been spent to deliver the ultimate prize, just for the club to continually fail at the last hurdle.
When the Abu Dhabi United Group purchased City, it was a club that was an afterthought in the city of Manchester, a club that hadn’t been relevant in decades, doomed to live in United’s shadow. In the 14 years since, City has become a champion while United has struggled to even make the Champions League. What might be just as impressive is how the group has used the city image to revive and create clubs across the world from New York to India, cultivating success across the globe.
Unlike other top clubs, like Manchester United and PSG to a certain extent, City have done a great job in terms of identifying talent and building a squad that matches whatever manager they have. Of course, the issue remains in how much they spend on those players, as clubs are willing to extract as much money as possible from the giants. For example, Jack Grealish was signed for over 120 million dollars, but has failed to even be one of the better creators in the Prem with his numbers being the worst in his career since 2016.
With that said, to miss out on the Champions League despite spending the GDP of several nations will always remain funny to neutrals and fans of opponents. It also brings up the question of how much longer this spending can continue without the ultimate prize, something that PSG will have to answer soon too.
Although they have been a regular in the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2010, it is really after the arrival of Pep that they began to fully realize their dreams of hoisting the trophy. It is also in this period, starting in 2016, that the spending blew up. Under Pep, City has spent over 1.1 billion dollars which is unheard of under a single manager.
To spend over a billion with only one finals appearance is insane, as other clubs have spent far less and reached the same amount of finals. Another billion can’t be spent to not win the trophy, there needs to be some sort of result soon. City have replaced United as the more recently successful of the Manchester sides, but to start to reach their historic importance, City must win in Europe.
At a certain point, the failures of City will have to be reckoned with as they continue to float from one large transfer to another with a growing monopoly on the Prem, but no UCL. The Abu Dhabi United Group experiment has been a success in most areas for City as they are now recognizable globally, but the Champions League will always remain as that impossible dream.
Pep Guardiola is responsible for so much of modern soccer’s evolution with his tiki-taka Barça sides being amongst the greatest teams of all time. However, since leaving Barcelona, he has achieved great success at the league level, but has yet to win another Champions League.
After revolutionizing the game and winning two Champions League in Catalonia, Pep would join a Bayern Munich side that had just won the Champions League. This was a talented side which featured players like Mandžukić and the Robbery duo, seemingly favorites to repeat. In the semis, however, they would be torn apart by Carlo Ancelotti’s breathtaking Real Madrid side.
Despite adding Robert Lewandowski amongst other signings in the next few seasons, Pep would never even reach a final with one of the best iterations of Bayern in recent memory. Instead he saw a rejuvenated Barça side win with the MSN trio, as Real would become unstoppable as well. It’s not that Bayern wasn’t a monster side, it was filled with excellent players, but they could never win in Europe.
His move to City was more or less the same, as he inherited an already talented side and was given a blank check to build the squad of his dreams. In that time he has won three league titles, with a fourth likely on the way, and broken the 100 points in a season barrier. Given his success in the Prem, he should be considered amongst the greatest Prem managers.
Europe continued to be another animal for Pep, despite him taking City to levels that they had never seen before. Last year, City would reach their first ever Champions League final, but would lose to Chelsea in a final where City had been seen as the favorites.
Now, it seems like the pressure of having his side seen as legitimate is reaching him, given his recent statements. In a rant where he accused the English press of cheering on Liverpool over City, Pep unknowingly made it clear the issue is legitimacy. It’s that despite his own success and the growth of City, they can’t be seen as belonging with Chelsea, Liverpool and United until they lift that trophy.
As Pep’s legacy becomes more debated, his desire to win another Champions League is surely growing, as it’s necessary to mark himself as the best manager of his generation. Just as City’s management needs the trophy to be seen as legitimate, Pep needs it to differentiate himself from his peers.
The Pep era has taken City to another level just as the Abu Dhabi United Group took City from a nothing club to a globally known name. However, without the Champions League, they will always be seen as an oil club rather than a historic winning club. Maybe Haaland will lead City to glory or maybe City is just doomed to this reality, no matter the players or manager.
Featured image: Carl Recine/Reuters