Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City reimagined English football infinitely for the better and this is evidenced up and down the land.
From Barnsley to Crawley, and trickling down through the non-leagues, the ball is habitually played out from the back while creatives are stationed in midfield these days, instead of inhabiting the less risky pastures of the wing.
Possession is king.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the most successful British side in modern times, by some considerable distance, has been praised to kingdom come.
But of course, no team does it better than City, masterminded as they are by a true innovative genius, and even detractors of the club have to begrudgingly admit that Guardiola’s intricate blueprint can be a joy to watch. It is brought to life by a seemingly never-ending array of technical ballers.
It is turned into high-art by the likes of Kevin De Bruyne.
For several campaigns, displaying a consistency that astounds, we have witnessed spellbound football of such high calibre as to be supernatural.
If stylistically the Catalan’s glorious creation has pushed the boundaries of what we previously believed possible, how that translates to dominance also takes us into unprecedented territory.
During Guardiola’s reign the Blues have won the league on four occasions and lifted cups by the bucketload.
In 2018/19, they secured a clean sweep of domestic silverware – the league, FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield – while a year prior, such was their rare supremacy, they defied the betting odds to become the first side to ever attain 100 points in a single season, a feat that garnered them the nickname, ‘Centurions’.
Also in that vintage campaign City scored 106 goals, an all-time Premier League high and indeed, when marvelling at this sublime collective we find they have broken all manner of records – some long-standing – along the way.
Most away points won in a season (50). That was City. Most consecutive wins (18). Again, City. The biggest title-winning margin. Guess who.
All told, it has been a relentless spree of brilliance and when reaching a Champions League final is also thrown into the mix then by every metric and by every definition, Pep Guardiola’s clean-sweeping, record-smashing Centurions have achieved greatness.
Yet should you not be of a City persuasion the likelihood is that you scoffed at that last bit. The bit about reaching a Champions League final.
The Champions League is the universe's way of balancing out 93.20 and having Pep Guardiola as our manager.— Stephen Tudor (@SteTudor123) May 4, 2022
And that’s because, from very early into Guardiola’s tenure in the North-West, an astronomically high bar was set in order for his City side to be considered a truly great team.
If they were to fail landing the biggest club prize of them all, then they were forever fated to be viewed as merely very good.
The arguments against this line of thinking largely focuses on precedent, or rather the absence of one. Because this condition has never been implemented before.
Were the Arsenal Invincibles not a great side?
After all, two years after going through a season unbeaten, with Thierry Henry resplendent amidst an Arsene Wenger team that hauled British football into the 21st century, the Gunners lost in a Champions League final.
What about Tottenham’s double-winners of 1960/61? Or Mourinho’s Chelsea during his first stint at the Bridge?
Furthermore, is winning a Champions League even a true and all-encompassing measure of greatness?
Not only is it a competition that demands as much luck as it does quality but should we flip it we find a good deal of previous winners who could only be described as ‘great’ at an enormous push.
Ironically, it was one of these sides that denied City their deserved mantel in 2021, that side being Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
That is not to say, of course, that the condition placed upon City’s elevation into football’s pantheon is inherently unfair.
There is a counterview that points out on Pep’s appointment it was commonly believed he was being brought in to secure City the prestigious trophy.
To complete the grand project. A failure to do so therefore, given the significant resources at his disposal, could only be viewed as precisely that – a failure.
Moreover, regarding the difficulty in winning the Champions League, would Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal be deemed irrefutably great had they never won Wimbledon?
Would Ronnie O’Sullivan possess the same stature had he won lots of British Opens and European Masters, but never the World Championship?
Only Pep Guardiola has a better all-time PL win % than Antonio Conte.#thfc pic.twitter.com/a9UuYwkyub— 888sport (@888sport) March 13, 2022
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong to this, and the discussion is subjective, but an interesting angle does emerge in that many City supporters aren’t overly desperate to win the Champions League, or at least not in comparison with continuing their domestic dominance.
Presently, even that is under threat with Arsenal’s amazing campaign widening the Blues’ Premier League odds by the week.
They do however want to win it, simply to silence this topic once and for all.
Which leads us to a very obvious, but pertinent point, that it’s not City fans who get to decide what constitutes a great team but rather supporters of other teams.
Perhaps though, in the increasingly tribalized world of football fandom their judgement cannot be wholly trusted either.
Instead then, let’s have history decide. Whether the Blues eventually lift the jug-eared trophy or not, let’s revisit this in 20 years’ time, when the brilliance is blurred into one remarkable era.
It is history that will ultimately inform us who was right, and who was wrong.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*