JOE BERNSTEIN: Pep Guardiola knows that Manchester City MUST win the Champions League
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have already done enough to be considered among the greatest teams this country has produced.
But their esteemed leader acknowledges that to become immortal like his famous Barcelona team, they still have to win the Champions League.
Guardiola usually steers away from comparisons. Asking Kevin De Bruyne, Erling Haaland and Ruben Dias to repeat what Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta achieved at the Nou Camp seems churlish given the records City have broken, the first team to reach 100 points, the first team to win the domestic Grand Slam.
Becoming a European champion is something Guardiola achieved in his first season as a manager in 2009 but it remains virgin territory to his current club or any of the squad.
Hence, despite unprecedented success on the home front and mass acclaim following their exhilarating 4-0 Champions League semi-final victory against Real Madrid last week, Guardiola has challenged his players to match Barca’s great tiki-taka side.
From back row, left to right: 1 Chris Elderkin (sports scientist), 2 Stefan Ortega, 3 Scott Carson, 4 Manel Estiarte (head of player support and protocol), 5 Julian Alvarez, 6 Kevin De Bruyne, 7 Aymeric Laporte, 8 Carlos Vicens (coach), 9 Riyad Mahrez, 10 Rodolfo Borrell (coach), 11 Jack Grealish, 12 Federico Genovesi (physio), 13 Jack Wilson (performance analyst), 14 Cole Palmer, 15 Barry South (security), 16 Richard Wright (goalkeeping coach), 17 Ryan DeFreitas (performance analyst), 18 Pep Guardiola (manager), 19 Joan Patsy (City Football Group director), 20 Shoaib Amaan (doctor), 21 Nathan Ake, 22 Rodri, 23 Sergio Gomez, 24 Enzo Maresca (coach), 25 Kalvin Phillips, 26 Rico Lewis, 27 Daniel Payne (performance analyst), 28 Mario Pafundi (sport therapist), 29 Harry Dunn (performance analyst), 30 Katie Dunne (operations), 31 Francesco Cos (fitness coach), 32 Scott Redwood (kitman), 33 Carlos Vicens (coach), 34 Craig Nosworthy (performance analyst), 35 Paul Hardman (chef), 36 Steven Sparks (physio), 37 Martyn Schofield (security), 38 Tom O’Malley (physio), 39 Edu Mauri (doctor), 40 Max Sala (doctor), 41 Sam Astley (performance analyst), 42 Anthony Greenhouse (physio), 43 Brandon Ashton (kitman), 44 Ederson, 45 James Balwin (physio), 46 Erling Haaland, 47 Daniel Wright (performance analyst), 48 Emily MacLennan (operations), 49 Ruben Dias, 50 Daniel Codina (team liaison), 51 Simon Bitcon (strength and conditioning), 52 Kyle Walker, 53 Xabier Mancisidor (goalkeeping coach), 54 Phil Foden, 55 Ben Thompson (performance therapist), 56 Lucy Wileman (operations), 57 Lorenzo Buenaventura (fitness coach), 58 Bernardo Silva.
Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona won the Champions League title twice in 2009 and 2011
The head coach has not one a European trophy since lifting the cup at Wembley 12 years ago
‘This team is really good but I’m in agreement with the media and people saying we have to win in Europe to be considered as the same type to the greatest ones [Barcelona 2008-15].
‘Those teams, they’ve won not just once, but many times in Europe. It is amazing for us to be here again and again. The joy is so nice and nothing is going to change that.
‘But if we are considered one of the best teams, we have to win the Champions League. If not, my opinion won’t change but to be in the books, the real [record] books, you have to do that.’
Under Guardiola, Barcelona won the Champions League in 2009 and 2011, with Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets providing the platform for artists like Messi to flourish.
Guardiola has become a master of mind management, knowing when to put an arm around the shoulder and when to deliver a broadside.
He appears remarkably relaxed as City enter the final lap of a potentially historic season. They play their final three Premier League games this week starting at home to Chelsea on Sunday, followed by an FA Cup final against Manchester United and Champions League showdown with Inter Milan.
Some of his most in-form players such as Jack Grealish and John Stones have had to endure long spells on the sidelines.
Guardiola admits there is an element of tough love in his dealings with players. If they aren’t picked, no explanations are given and it’s up them to deal with rejection and be ready when called upon.
Guardiola’s skill this season has been able to bring out the best in players like Jack Grealish (right)
John Stones has flourished in a tweaked role under the Catalan manager in this campaign
‘At the start of the season I ask my sporting director if any of the players have clauses in their contract that says they have to play. And he tells me “No”,’ says Guardiola.
‘So they all have to accept my decision. It is difficult for players who are out of form or don’t play for a tactical reason. I could explain the reasons why but I don’t because they will not understand it.
‘But they have to know the season is so long that everyone has opportunity. They have to be ready and fight against their mates to play.
‘Look at John [Stones], how well he is playing, but during seven years he wasn’t playing in some periods. Why? Maybe it was my mistake, maybe he was not at his top, or maybe another player was playing better. You just have to accept it. Life is like that. It is not always perfect you know.’
Except, life right now for City does seem fairly perfect. Guardiola also won La Liga and the Copa del Rey in his first season at Barca and the 52-year-old recalls momentum being a key factor.
‘I always remember saying “What’s next?”,’ he says. ‘The first title helps win the second one, second one helps win the third. The dynamic helps you a lot.
‘Not winning the Premier League would make it tougher to win against Manchester United at Wembley. Not winning the FA Cup would make it tougher to win against Inter Milan. That I remember perfectly.’
The one cloud hovering above City’s achievements is the ongoing investigation to see if they abided by football’s financial rules in building their current squad.
Having cemented the Premier League title, City are one step closer to a historic Treble
But Guardiola has urged the players not to rest on their laurels after cementing their third league title in consecutive seasons
Guardiola has railed against what he sees as unfair treatment from authorities but in his current cheery mood, not even that is sidelining his desire to win three pots.
‘You can be angry one day if you are accused of something but after that day you have to sustain the mentality of the way we play and desire of every player,’ he said.
‘We have four Premier Leagues and we must fight for another. Why should it stop?
‘Why should we stop after losing Champions League semi-final and not try again and again? The best clubs want more and more. They are always starving.’