Sorry Pep, but the pressure IS on to end your barren decade in Europe: Guardiola hasn’t won the Champions League since 2011 and his critics will scoff at claims of his greatness if he fails to land the big one with Man City
- Manchester City face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-finals
- This is the first time City have reached the semis under manager Pep Guardiola
- He hasn’t won the competition since managing a formidable Barcelona in 2011
- Given his resources, failing to win in Europe is a stain on his glittering CV
A Champions League semi-final always carries huge significance regardless, but, no matter how much he downplays it, for Pep Guardiola this could be truly defining for his managerial legacy.
Manchester City travel to France on Wednesday night to take on Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg at the Parc des Princes.
A mouthwatering occasion already, the tie has the extra spice of it being Guardiola’s first Champions League semi-final appearance with City at the fifth attempt.
His previous four seasons at the Etihad in European football saw a last-16 exit (2016-17) followed by three straight quarter-final defeats (2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20).
For a man of his esteemed reputation, coupled with City’s financial clout, failing to get beyond the quarter-finals until now has simply not been good enough.
Pep Guardiola will be hoping to roar his Manchester City to victory over Paris Saint-Germain
City are through to the Champions League semis for the first time under Guardiola in five years
He played it cool at his press conference on Tuesday, insisting the Premier League was more important than success in Europe and that City were already punching above their weight by reaching this stage of the Champions League.
Guardiola said: ‘We make this position [semi-final] now and we are lucky to live right now where we are, now I am very happy to travel with this club to Paris with the tactic to be ourselves and win the games.
‘And then to Crystal Palace (on Saturday) to win one of the two games we need to win the Premier League, the most important one. I say the Champions League is nice, but the Premier League is the important one.’
He added: ‘Of course we are not elite in this comp, that’s for sure, but we want to be there.
‘All of us is grateful to give ourselves this opportunity to be there. For Barca and Madrid it is a normality to play in this stage of the competition, for us it is something new. It is incredible to have this chance.’
Even if City are not used to this stage of the competition, Guardiola certainly is.
Before he joined City, all Guardiola knew was reaching the final four of the Champions League – doing so seven out of seven times across spells at Barcelona (four times) and Bayern Munich (three).
Since taking over at Barcelona in 2008, the 50-year-old has gone on to win 25 major trophies during a stunning managerial career.
His impressive haul puts him among the greats of his profession but there are some, whisper it quietly, who point to his Champions League successes – which only count for two of those trophies – as underwhelming.
After winning the Carabao Cup on Sunday, Jamie Redknapp was gushing in his praise for the Spaniard – calling him a ‘genius’ and the ‘greatest ever manager’.
Guardiola celebrates with his coaching staff after winning the Carabao Cup on Sunday
‘They are a joy to watch, if you enjoy watching football then you love watching Manchester City play,’ the Sportsmail columnist said post-match on Sky Sports of their 1-0 over Tottenham at Wembley.
‘The way they move it, the triangles, it is a joy to watch. Pep Guardiola, I think he is a genius, the players will run through brick walls for him. The football they play in midfield, from the back, it is a joy and they were far superior.
‘Is he the greatest ever? I personally think with the style of football he plays, how humble he is, the way he improves players, I think he is the greatest ever. Already for whatever happens from here.
‘There was always that argument when he was at Barcelona that he had [Lionel] Messi, [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi. But now everywhere he goes you see the progression, the improvement. And this year might be the most successful.
‘After eight games they were 14th in the league, everyone questioning whether they had lost their appetite and whether the players were not running for him anymore. He has proved that is not the case.
‘They went on a 21-game winning run, which is frightening. To see them now, the Premier League is pretty much sewn up. Wednesday now becomes huge for them, he knows the importance of that you can see it in his eyes.’
Jamie Redknapp believes the Manchester City boss may be the greatest manager of all time
However, fellow Sportsmail columnist Micah Richards believes Guardiola must win a Champions League with City to really deserve that title of ‘greatest ever’.
‘The League Cups are massive but the Champions League takes him to the next level,’ he said.
‘He didn’t win it at Bayern with all those top players, won it at Barcelona but he had a really good side. I think the credit I can give to him is the way he has evolved the playing.
‘From the youth the first team, not matter who he puts in that squad, they all play the same way. That’s the difference in the process and everyone buying in.’
Micah Richards thinks Guardiola needs to win the Champions League with City first
Both make valid points. Guardiola has helped revolutionise football but this season marks 10 years since he was last crowned a Champions League-winning coach and that was while in charge of arguably the greatest club side in history.
That team boasted the world-class talents of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Iniesta and the jewel in the crown, Messi.
During his four years at the Nou Camp, Guardiola won 11 trophies – including everything there was to win – so anything but European success was deemed a disappointment.
After a sabbatical from management, Guardiola joined Bayern Munich ahead of the 2013-14 term. The German giants were the reigning European champions upon his arrival and were backed to continue their dominance with Guardiola at the helm. However, a 1-0 defeat at Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final first leg was made worse by a 4-0 mauling at home to bow out 5-0 on aggregate.
The following season saw Bayern face Barcelona and Guardiola faced the same outcome against his former side – bowing out 5-3 on aggregate with the damage done from a 3-0 first leg defeat in Spain.
Guardiola won his first Champions League in 2008-09 in his debut campaign at Barcelona
The Spaniard is thrown in the air in celebration after Barca win the 2010-11 final vs Man United
It was to be a hat-trick of Champions League final-four exits by Spanish opposition as Guardiola’s final year in charge saw Bayern lose on away goals to Atletico Madrid after the tie ended 2-2.
A barren decade in the Champions League is something Guardiola will be desperate to avoid this season.
Since arriving at City they have been touted among the tournament favourites but have utterly failed to live up to their billing. In fact, statistically they’ve gone backwards if you consider that Guardiola’s predecessor Manuel Pellegrini took them to the semi-finals in his final year in charge (2015-16).
This incarnation of City is better than that team and the pressure is on Guardiola to live up to his managerial mettle.
The tepid quarter-final exit to Lyon last year still lingers but Guardiola can reassert his quality on the grandest of stages against the formidable PSG.
Guardiola suffered three-straight semi-final exits while in charge of Bayern Munich (2014-16)
The 50-year-old saw his City bow out of the quarter-finals last season after losing to Lyon
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe top the star-studded bill of their French opponents but Guardiola has quality in abundance of his own. Kevin De Bruyne is the world’s finest midfielder and he has the solidity of Ederson and Ruben Dias behind him plus the talents of Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden up ahead.
With Real Madrid and Chelsea competing in the other semi-final, City know the journey to their first Champions League title will not be easy.
‘It’s almost impossible to control them during the full 90 minutes,’ Guardiola said of the threat of PSG.
‘We have to try to finish to review the team but the quality they have, not just Neymar and [Kylian] Mbappe – [Angel] Di Maria and [Julian] Draxler when they play – the quality of the players in [Leandro] Paredes, [Marco] Verratti with the personality they play.
‘They are organised at the back, but it’s the semi-final of the Champions League, if you play against Chelsea, Madrid, or just in case another team it’s always difficult.
‘It’s just to try to play who we are. That’s what we are going to try to do.’
With Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, Guardiola can end his barren run
Guardiola was brought to City five years ago to deliver in these type of moments. Having finally got to the final four of the Champions League he knows failure in going past this stage will see his detractors out in full voice again.
However, winning the Champions League will cement his already established place in City’s history as well as further enhance his legendary reputation.
With the League Cup already won and Premier League title surely returning to the Etihad, Guardiola will be itching to add a new piece of silverware to the club’s cabinet come May. First though he has to get past PSG.
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