Pep Guardiola changed football forever but he’s underperforming at Man City in Europe

Manchester City were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in painful circumstances by a number of defeated teams led by Pep Guardiola. (Photo by DAX Images/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City in Europe; it shouldn’t be like that.

The defining images of those years should have been shots of footballers in sky-blue shirts, beaming grins and tossing their superhero coach in the middle of the air, tossing a magnificent, gleaming, silver, two-handled trophy in a huge continent-wide stadium in front of adoring fans, a magnificent, two-handled trophy Confetti, the fireworks and the champagne.

It should have been Guardiola as the vanguard of the world’s most talented football team, the Harlem Globetrotters, who would lead them to glory by maiming the historic battalions that had guarded the European Cup for too long.


Pep Guardiola should have won the UEFA Champions League with Manchester City at least once at this point. (Photo by Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Instead, six years on, all Manchester City have to show for playing in Europe is a flip book reel of long lens photos that render Guardiola prostrate, head in hands, mouth open and pleading to heaven without any of the answers.

With only injury time remaining at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night, Guardiola and City had ruthlessly executed their game plan and earned a chance to beat Liverpool in a Paris final this era of football has been building on for years.

Six minutes later, Manchester City had been turned around again, conspiring to throw away all their hard work and efficiency in six minutes of self-inflicted chaos against an objectively inferior football team.

Real Madrid had once again accomplished what had already brought them so far in the competition – unleashing the best of their quality, harnessing the power of their home crowd and the sheer irrepressible energy of what is currently the greatest footballer on the planet, Karim Benzema, in a seemingly impossible feat make dreams come true.

After beating Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, Carlo Ancelotti will now contest his fifth UEFA Champions League final. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

If this were an isolated case for the away side, an inexplicable collapse in the face of mystical powers against a team just too good to hold back, then Guardiola and City could be forgiven. That’s not the case, however, as it’s a pattern that underpins their shared history and Guardiola’s own Champions League failure over more than a decade.

Since winning the second of his two European Cup winners with Barcelona in 2011, Guardiola has managed Bayern Munich for three seasons and Manchester City for six. A single final reached in that time after building absolutely superb teams capable of crushing opponents week after week over the course of entire league campaigns is nothing short of a terrible return.

During this period, Guardiola was largely knocked out of the tournament over short periods of draws, during which his side conceded a deadly barrage of goals. In total, his teams have conceded 18 goals in 79 minutes of football in the 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2022 editions of the Champions League. One every four and a half minutes. Knocked out six times in surrenders, one and all.

Jack Grealish was inches away from being Man City’s match-winning hero (Image: Getty)

If there is a metaphysical force that says some football clubs are simply built for the European Cup, then a final in Paris between Real Madrid and Liverpool is a better example than could be produced on purpose. But using ‘the football gods’ as an excuse justifies nothing other than what is responsible given the sheer amount of money City spends on an annual conveyor belt of the world’s best footballers and their ruthless dominance of national competitions during Guardiola’s otherwise glorious time undoubtedly a massive underperformance.

That efficiency, that control that City have been able to use so often under Guardiola in England, simply dissipates at key moments when they play in the latter stages of European competition. The footballers are the same and the sticks don’t move but the psychology and context of playing in the Champions League with the show, the music and the whistle seem to break the force field that City have so carefully and brilliantly built around them.

None of this is to say that the extent of Guardiola’s influence on football should be questioned or diminished. Still in his late 30s, he became one of the greatest and most revolutionary football coaches the sport has ever seen, and his ability to reinvent his teams across micro-epochs is a testament to his refusal to believe in a single way to win football games .

Even the most great coaches can often only succeed for one generation at the highest level of football. So many watch the game fly past them when sports science advances, their best players retire, or the industry surrounding the game becomes too tedious. But Guardiola’s city, realistically, couldn’t be more different than his world-conquering tiki-taka team Barcelona.

Whatever happens between now and when Pep Guardiola leaves Manchester City, he will forever change both English and European football. But if he isn’t to be photographed for years to come lifting club football’s biggest trophy with billowing blue and white ribbons, then the album cover can only be his agony

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General Sports Pep Guardiola changed football forever but he's underperforming at Man City in Europe

Nate Jones

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