Pep Guardiola’s long struggle to win the UEFA Champions League again came to an end on Saturday as Manchester City finally conquered Europe.
The last time Guardiola lifted the European Cup 12 years ago his Barcelona side put in an era-defining performance to dismantle Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley.
By contrast, a nervy 1-0 win over Inter Milan in Istanbul will not go down as one of City’s most stylish in seven golden years since the Catalan coach arrived in Manchester.
But it was the most significant as a club that for so long lived in the shadow of United has now matched the Red Devils’ class of 1998/99 by winning the treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season.
“(To) win this competition, to win the treble is so difficult,” Guardiola told BT Sport. “That’s why today is not important the way, it’s to get it.”
The 52-year-old knows all too well about the fine margins that define success or failure in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Since last winning the competition, he had lost one final, five semi-finals and three quarter-finals in 10 seasons at Barca, Bayern and City.
So many times fortune deserted him. Lionel Messi missed a crucial penalty for Barcelona against Chelsea in the semi-finals of 2012.
Thomas Mueller also fluffed his lines from the spot that cost Bayern a place in the final against Atletico Madrid in 2016.
At City, only a dramatic VAR intervention chalked off Raheem Sterling’s stoppage-time winner against Tottenham in 2019 quarter-finals and Real Madrid rallied in last season’s semi-final from two goals down in the dying seconds only after series of remarkable saves from Thibaut Courtois kept the Spanish giants in the game.
This time lady luck shone on Guardiola as he claimed “it was written in the stars” this would be City’s season.
After Rodri gave the English champions the lead 22 minutes from time, Inter were twice inches away from an equaliser when Federico Dimarco hit the bar before Romelu Lukaku’s late header struck Ederson on the knee.
“You have to be lucky in this competition,” added Guardiola. “This competition is a coin. But we were there and it was written in the stars this season it belonged to us.”
Guardiola was already widely regarded as the greatest coach of his generation thanks to 11 league titles in just 14 seasons in charge of Barca, Bayern and City.
But victory at the Ataturk Stadium also silenced the remaining critics of his ability to get the job done in Europe.
Instead, the narrative now flips as Guardiola moves into esteemed company as only the fourth coach to win three European Cups and sixth to win the competition with two different clubs.
“He’s a genius,” said City winger Jack Grealish, who has come to the fore this season after a difficult first year as he struggled to live up to a £100 million price tag.
“Even last year when I was playing crap he stayed there with me and this year he’s given me that platform to perform, so I just want to say thank you to him.”
Guardiola had previously stood accused of “overthinking” his team selections in European exits, none more so than when he dropped both holding midfielders Rodri and Fernandinho in a Champions League final defeat by Chelsea two years ago.
This time his only controversial call saw Kyle Walker dropped to the bench to make way for Nathan Ake’s return from injury, but even the England international paid tribute to his boss.
“I’m always going to be disappointed when I’m not playing,” said Walker. “But to give me what he’s given me and experience what I’ve experienced in football, I’ll be forever be in debt with him.”