For Pep Guardiola This Final Could Start A Manchester City Dynasty

For Pep Guardiola This Final Could Start A Manchester City Dynasty

Sunday, 25 February, 2018 - 09:30
Pep Guardiola, here celebrating Manchester City’s late win over Southampton in November, seems likely to spend a minimum of five years at the club. Photograph: Manchester City FC/Man City via Getty Images
London - Jamie Jackson
If Manchester City beat Arsenal in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final their quest to become one of English football’s most successful single-season sides takes flight. Suddenly the value of the least desired major competition is priceless because of what it could be a part of for City and their manager, Pep Guardiola: a treble of League Cup, Premier League and Champions League.

In 1999 Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United won the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. This placed the XI of Roy Keane and David Beckham as these shores’ highest achievers and ranked them among football’s finest.

The stakes for City are almost as high: Guardiola’s side have a chance to become England’s third winners of a treble, emulating Liverpool’s 1983-84 collection of European Cup, Football League Championship and League Cup trophies.

The first demand is to defeat Arsenal. A 16-point lead in the title race means City have all but sealed a third Premier League crown. They hold a 4-0 advantage over Basel in the Champions League after the opening leg so are near-certainties for the quarter-finals and from this stage all opponents will hope to avoid City, the tournament favourites.

Achieving the treble would be significant regarding what Guardiola and City might achieve in the coming years. The arguments that his gilded CV is due to having managed Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and the Bundesliga’s dominant force, Bayern Munich, would be silenced.

City’s rivals would also face a starker truth: that the 46-year-old could be on the verge of establishing a hegemony not seen since the Ferguson years at United. On and off the field Guardiola is certainly tightening his hold on the domestic game in a manner not seen since the Scot stepped away from United in May 2013.

In Guardiola’s campaign to protect his players from “dangerous tackles” echoes of Ferguson’s cold‑eyed professionalism can be found. This kind of protest can work only from a position of strength and after 18 months Guardiola’s increasing domination is emboldening him, just as Ferguson’s lofty status did.

City may be flying but this has not stopped Guardiola, by marking referees’ cards, from trying to ensure his side will not be stopped by tackles that could rule out a star talent. Just as Ferguson tried to make himself a factor in officials’ decisions so too Guardiola, whose public condemnation was followed by City arranging a meeting with the Premier League referees’ body regarding the matter.

As Ferguson’s players echoed their manager’s prevailing message during his tenure so too Guardiola’s, with Raheem Sterling claiming team-mates were being “butchered” and Bernardo Silva saying they were being “targeted”.

After a 12-month bedding-in period Guardiola has transformed City into this year’s dominant force and is intent they should not prove a one-season wonder. He now seems likely to stay for a minimum of five years, despite a source close to Guardiola telling the Guardian a few months after the manager joined in summer 2016 there “was no way” an extension to his three-year contract would be sought.

This was because of the prospect of burnout given Guardiola’s near 24/7 devotion to the job and the natural cycle of a head coach at any major club. The mood music has changed. The City executive are convinced Guardiola may be in charge for a decade or more and, though this seems optimistic, he will sign for longer in the close season and enjoy a five-year tenure, at least.

“Everything is set up perfectly for Guardiola” might be the unofficial mantra of the way City have sought to ensure he can prosper, and it is reaping the desired dividend. Following last year’s barren opening term he is set to deliver in spectacular style.

Sunday is a chance for Guardiola to initiate this. Since Ferguson no manager has claimed more than one Premier League title, with Manuel Pellegrini, José Mourinho, Claudio Ranieri and Antonio Conte guiding City, Chelsea, Leicester City and Chelsea to the championship respectively. Three have accrued more than one trophy – Mourinho (four), Pellegrini (three) and Arsène Wenger (three) – and Mourinho (twice) and Pellegrini (once) have won two competitions in a single season.

If Guardiola can outmanoeuvre Wenger and claim the League Cup he is almost certain to join Mourinho and Pellegrini as a multiple winner in one term given that the title is a fait accompli.

Claiming the Champions League may be far harder but a squad bursting with A-listers and assisted by the experience Guardiola gathered from two triumphs in charge of Barcelona has a real chance of elevating City into the elite band of continental heavyweights.

The shock FA Cup defeat at Wigan Athletic on Monday night ended the dream of a historic quadruple, and will have disappointed the perfectionist that is Guardiola. Yet in the context of what City can still do this season it may prove a boon to energy levels and focus. By the final whistle on Sunday City hope to have a moved one step closer.

The Guardian Sport

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