Pep Guardiola laughed when it was put to him that Manchester City could go on to chase down Real Madrid’s record tally of European Cups after their victory over Inter Milan in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final.
“Be careful Real Madrid! If you sleep a little bit we will catch you,” he joked in the wake of City’s first triumph in Europe’s elite club competition, which also saw them complete a treble after they won the English Premier League and FA Cup.
A Rodri strike gave City a 1-0 win at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium as they became European champions for the first time after several near misses in recent years.
The Abu Dhabi-owned club have a long way to go to catch Real’s record haul of 14 victories, and it would be some achievement if they ever get there.
Yet it is tempting to look at Saturday’s success in Turkey and wonder if it might definitively mark the start of a new era in European football.
Real, the great aristocrats of the sport, have resisted the rise of City and Paris Saint-Germain, teams backed by Gulf riches, to win the Champions League five times in the last decade.
The Spaniards were blown away by City in this season’s last four, though, and Guardiola’s side - beaten by Chelsea in the 2021 final - may take some stopping now they have claimed their first title.
“The good thing is that we want more,” match-winner Rodri said. “This project is to want more, more ambition.”
City are just the second English side to win the treble, following Manchester United in 1999.
It is an era-defining triumph for a club whose rise has been remarkable, as well as a potentially era-shaping moment.
City were in England’s third tier the year their cross-town rivals completed their treble.
United were reigning European champions while City had finished ninth in the previous season’s Premier League when they were bought in 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group, backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
City had not won the English title in 40 years at that point.
They have just claimed a seventh Premier League in 12 seasons and have won three FA Cups and six League Cups since the takeover. Now they have a first Champions League.
“Today’s title is the result of a deliberate strategy developed 15 years ago,” Sheikh Mansour, who is vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, said in a statement.
He attended Saturday’s final, reportedly just the second match he has been to in that time, in which City have gone from also-rans to superpower.
Guardiola’s brilliance has been key, but he acknowledges none of what City have achieved would be possible without the 2008 takeover.
“Listen, one of the main reasons why this club became what we are is because people from Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour, took over the club,” said the Catalan.
“Without that we wouldn’t be here. That is the most important thing.”
City had the biggest revenues of any football club last year according to analysts Deloitte, of 731 million euros ($786m).
Premier League charges
That same ranking a decade ago had them seventh, and their rise has posed problems for football, with City being fined 60 million euros in 2014 for breaching UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
The club were banned for two years from UEFA competitions in February 2020 for “serious financial fair-play breaches”, although the sanction was later overturned.
In February this year they were charged with 115 alleged rule breaches by the Premier League, concerning the period from 2009 to 2018.
However, that case may not be resolved any time soon, and City appear poised to keep dominating, at least if they can keep Guardiola.
“I don’t want after one Champions League to disappear, so we have to work harder next season and be there,” he said.
It is not just City.
Qatar-owned PSG have come close before, losing the 2020 final to Bayern Munich.
They will surely eventually get there in Europe, perhaps next season with Kylian Mbappe spearheading their project.
Next season’s Champions League will also feature Saudi-owned Newcastle United. Meanwhile, Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani has been locked in a bidding war for Manchester United.
Many fans of the Old Trafford club, England’s first European Cup winners in 1968, may feel that enormous investment from the Middle East is the only way they can now hope to catch City.