Pep Guardiola acknowledges Champions League win will establish Man City as European soccer juggernaut

Pep Guardiola acknowledges Champions League win will establish Man City as European soccer juggernaut
Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola during the Uefa Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid on 17 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Adam Vaughan)

Manchester City are in pursuit of a first Uefa Champions League title. The English club’s manager, Pep Guardiola, will also reach a personal milestone should his side beat Italy’s Inter Milan on Saturday night.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola joined the club for myriad reasons back in 2016. Not least because of the dogged pursuit by City’s owners of the Uefa Champions League.

Italian heavyweights Inter Milan – who have conquered Europe three times in their history (to the Manchester side’s zero conquests) – are the last hurdle in the Manchester club’s goal of adding a new chapter to the story of European soccer.

Guardiola’s predecessors under the team’s Abu Dhabi-based bosses all played their part leading up to him taking the reins and now guiding the team to a second Champions League final appearance in three seasons.

From Roberto Mancini – whose expensively assembled side famously clinched the club’s first domestic league title in 44 years in 2012 (four years after the ambitious Emiratis bought the club) – to Manuel Pellegrini and Mark Hughes.

All this laid the foundation for City’s current mentor to gain an important point when it comes to the debate about the greatest managerial minds to ever occupy a dugout.

Guardiola’s gain

Should heavy favourites City find a way past the Nerazzurri in Istanbul on Saturday, Guardiola will be in the elite company of former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane and Liverpool great Bob Paisley as the managers with the second-most Champions League crowns. 

They have three European titles apiece. Italian tactician Carlo Ancelotti occupies the throne alone, with four European titles.  

At the moment City’s manager is on two after winning this coveted cup with Spanish side Barcelona twice (2009 and 2011).

He is joined by the likes of Portuguese mentor Jose Mourinho, Manchester United’s legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson and fellow Spaniard Vicente del Bosque on that total.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Now let’s make it a treble, Guardiola urges Manchester City players

There are 14 more managers with the same return. Evidently a crowded tier for the closely contested crown of the best manager in a Champions League context.  

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola watches his players during a training session at the City Football Academy in Manchester on 6 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Adam Vaughan)

If the Citizens manage to overcome the mental hurdle of claiming their maiden title in Europe’s premier continental club competition, it’s not hard to imagine them pushing on to claim a second and third Champions League title in coming seasons.

At just 52, Guardiola still has time on his side. With City, he has an ambitious club that supports and trusts him unequivocally. It would take a drastic turn of events to see him leave Manchester before possibly claiming more Champions League crowns.

We need the Champions League

In spite of not agreeing with the notion, Guardiola is aware that his side needs the Champions League to truly rubber-stamp itself as a juggernaut in global club soccer.

“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 told

Erling Haaland of Manchester City in action against goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois of Real Madrid during their Champions League semifinals on 17 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Adam Vaughan)

“Even if I don’t share this opinion, I understand that everything we have done through all these years (which has been a lot and very good), will [only] make sense to others if we win this competition. If we don’t win it, then things will seem to ‘make less sense’. It’s a bit unfair, but we must accept it. That’s how it is,” said the Spanish tactician.

“We must also accept that if we want to make a definitive step as a big club, we must win in Europe. We have to win the Champions [League]. That’s something you can’t avoid.

“But the most important thing is to be there. Again and again and again. Two years ago, we were there. Two years later, we are here again. We will try, and the most important thing is to be here again in a few years.

“That’s what defines a big club. When year after year, you make it to the Champions League fighting in the latest stages. Plus winning the title.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Manchester City on cusp of joining elite list of European treble winners

In spite of his acknowledgement that a Champions League will definitely enhance City’s reputation, Guardiola is less concerned about what a win in the final will mean for him personally. Or so he says.

“[As a manager] I’ve reached 10 Champions League semifinals, I’ve played three finals, winning two, and now I’m going to be in my fourth final. [The competition has] given me more than I could have ever imagined. If my life were to end now, I’d have won one as a player with my club (Barcelona) – which I love so much. As well as winning two as my club’s manager,” he said.

Women play soccer during the Uefa Champions Festival in Istanbul, Turkey, on 8 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Erdem Sahin)

“You have to be ambitious but not too greedy. This competition has given me very, very sad moments that hurt me. Moments which will always be in my mind. But it also gave me extremely beautiful moments. Which will also always be in my mind. That’s what life is all about. And that’s the way sports work.”

In Istanbul, Guardiola will hope to collect another happy memory thanks to the Champions League. Though 2010 European champions Inter will not be pushovers.

The match kicks off at 9pm South African time. DM


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