As it left Anfield, the state of Manchester City’s bus reflected the performance of the team on the pitch. Pep Guardiola’s side were battered by Liverpool on Wednesday night, with their Champions League hopes bruised. The Catalan coach was appointed to establish City as a true European force, unless they can overturn a 3-0 deficit next week those ambitions will go unrealised for another season at least.
Indeed, for all that Man City have set a precedent for the rest of English football to follow this season, with the Etihad Stadium outfit just one win away from clinching the Premier League table little over a week into April, Guardiola’s tenure at the club will be defined by what he does in Europe.
After all, Man City had won two Premier League titles in five years before Guardiola’s hiring in the summer of 2016. The final frontier for the club was in the Champions League, where they had struggled to make an impression. Two seasons into the Guardiola years and City, unless they can pull of an almighty comeback next week, are still struggling to make an impression.
But even if Man City fail to win the Champions League under Guardiola, even if the Catalan comes and goes from the Etihad Stadium without securing the club’s place at the top of the European game, his legacy could sustain them for a generation. Guardiola isn’t just building for the present, he’s building a dynasty that will outlast himself.
Look at how Barcelona have stuck around at the top of the European game in the years following Guardiola’s exit back in 2012. Guardiola gave the Catalans a platform for an entire generation and they have used that platform to establish themselves as a force, both domestically and in continental competition, winning title after title for the past decade.
To a lesser extent, Guardiola also set up Bayern Munich for the future even after his departure. He overhauled the culture of the Bavarian club, setting them up for success even in times of trouble, like they experienced earlier this season. In time, wholesale changes will have to be made as the team Guardiola left behind starts to age, but for now his core continues to carry Bayern.
Guardiola is now instilling the same principles and values at the Etihad as he did at the Camp Nou and the Allianz Arena. A certain style of play is now expected at Manchester City, with the ideology of dynamic, free-flowing, possession-based football trickling through the club’s youth ranks. It’s why young talents like Phil Foden look so comfortable in the first team.
In Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, Guardiola has given Man City a core of players to carry them for years. As his track record shows, the Catalan coach likely won’t stick around at the Etihad for too long. In fact, he might only have one or two more seasons at City, going on the time he spent at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
But Guardiola’s influence will far outlast his tenure at Manchester City. “To think about joining these kind of teams you have to be there for a long time,” the Catalan explained earlier this season when asked whether his current team can be counted among the company of the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. “A long time means many, many years. [This season] we have just one title, that’s all.”
His point is a valid one. It will take time for Man City to be considered European giants in the same way Guardiola’s former teams are. Not even one Champions League triumph would be enough to lift them to that level, to that status. The clock is already ticking on Guardiola if he is to lead City to such glories himself, but in the grand scheme of things, that might not matter much.
City might well overturn the 3-0 deficit against Liverpool in next week’s second leg. They may still go on to claim their first Champions League title. But if they don’t, Guardiola has put the pieces in place to give them the best possible chance of success after he leaves. That’s what he does.
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Also published on Medium.