Pep Guardiola concedes that he needs to win the Champions League with Manchester City to cement his legacy.
Guardiola is widely regarded as one of the best managers of all time, if not the greatest, but has still come in for some criticism at City because of lofty expectations – particularly around their pursuit of European glory.
After changing the way football is played at Barcelona, and dominating Spain and Europe while doing it, he followed it up with a spell at Bayern Munich. While he was barely challenged domestically in Germany, he failed to land the Champions League, which many regarded as a failure.
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At City, he has again produced some technically fiendish football and the club scored 100 goals in the league last season as they secured the title. They also produced a relentless run of form in the second half of the current campaign to overhaul Arsenal’s title challenge, and in Erling Haaland they have a new, ruthless figurehead.
Nevertheless, the Champions League continues to elude Guardiola and City, meaning the Spaniard is yet to win a European trophy without Lionel Messi – despite being given the resources to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on left-backs alone at the Etihad.
Speaking to former Manchester United defender and BT Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand – who lost to Guardiola’s Barcelona in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals – the Spaniard acknowledged that he now sees the trophy as a necessity.
He said: “We have to admit it. For me it’s a little bit unfair, [not] to give credit to everything [we’ve won], [saying] ‘you have to win the Champions League’. But at the end we have to be honest, everyone in the world says that without the Champions League it’s not the same, so we have to accept it.”
He continued: ”I think when you win the Premier League, it looks like ‘OK, it’s done’. But when you have all the cards on the table and you miss one, it’s what you have to do [win them all].”
Ferdinand asked why Guardiola kissed his runners-up medal in 2021 after losing the Champions League final to Chelsea, and the Catalan explained that he could still appreciate the significance of merely reaching the final.
“We were the second best team in all of Europe,” he said. “What’s the problem? We are sad? I have everything [all my medals], of course. We want to win it, but I’m not going to say to my kids, they make absolutely everything, they don’t have the results in this aspect, I’m [not] going to tell them ‘you’re a disaster, you’re a failure’. I’m not going to do that to my kids.
“The same I’m going to say to my players. I’m not like that. When we do all the process and during the process I don’t see effort, we are not humble enough, we are arrogant in the way we played, and after that, that is a bigger failure.
“But when you’re in the final of the Champions League, of course you want to win it and if we don’t achieve it, we will be disappointed, but I will not say to the players after the end of the season it was bad.”
Guardiola hails ‘special’ FA Cup win but wants UCL for true City recognition
After weeks and perhaps months of being quizzed on his team’s chances of landing the treble, Guardiola said he was willing to contemplate the possibility after beating the last team to achieve the feat, Manchester United, in the FA Cup final.
He accepted: “Now, after the final against United, we can accept that people talk about the treble. It’s just one game away. Before, the game against United was really tough. And we cannot forget about the last two or three months, incredibly difficult games that we knew that if we lost, Arsenal maybe we could not [catch them].
“Now we are there, we had two good weeks to prepare one final [FA Cup], now we’re going to prepare the second one. Travel as relaxed as possible, no motivational videos, nothing special. Do exactly what we have done all year, let’s go there and win one single game. Knowing my team, it’s the best way we can do it.”
Guardiola is already looking to next season for a new style of play, including young defender Rico Lewis.
He told Ferdinand: “You have an idea, but [it changes] after the development of the team, and the problems the opponents create. At the start of the season, if you’d asked me would Rico Lewis be as important as the guy has been? He played a lot of minutes in the Premier League and in the cups, he showed us many things in his movements the way we could play.
“A team is an open process, next season I don’t know what’s going to happen… We are going to play completely different than in the first season when I arrived. Part of the players are new but the shape is completely different. It’s normal, it has to be like that.”
Despite casting his eye to the medium-term, Guardiola is aware that the weekend’s opponents pose a real threat to his plans.
Simone Inzaghi, Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Inter, Getty Images
Image credit: Getty Images
“First of all, they had an incredibly tough group stage with Bayern Munich and Barcelona,” he said of the Serie A side. “Inter Milan, it’s like you play against AC Milan, Juventus – they have history higher than us and better than us.
“Defensively with five in the back always we struggle. Italian mentality, if they want to defend they will be incredibly comfortable. That is the moment we struggle to make good attacks, you have to be patient. They will try to make us anxious or nervous. That is when I have to be more calm, stick to what we have to do, and go for it.
“I don’t have doubts we will go there and we will do absolutely everything to do it. But I saw many games the last two weeks from Inter, and it’s not just defending. They have good process, keeper [Andre] Onana is exceptional, it’s difficult to high press against a keeper like him.
“They have a lot of patterns like Antonio Conte does. Simone Inzaghi has made other teams like Lazio in the same shape with 5-3-2. We spoke with the players: ‘Guys, it will be a real, real tough game’, but we cannot expect different playing in the final of the Champions League. Give me [any] team to play instead of Inter, it would [still] be difficult. Always the same: try to be ourselves… and go for it.”
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