Man City At The Treble: Pep Guardiola Clinches Holy Grail For City By Doing Just Enough

Man City At The Treble: Pep Guardiola Clinches Holy Grail For City By Doing Just Enough

As the ball was cut back by Bernardo Silva, after an exquisite through ball by Akanji and as the City players cried out for handball, with the pass ricocheting off an Inter defender, time almost stood still for a few seconds, as those inside the Ataturk in Istanbul held their breath, it was almost limbo, it was almost in a flash, it was practically a scene out of a Christopher Nolan movie as the ball went backward towards an onrushing Rodri.

The Spaniard took a deep breath and calmly fizzed a calculated shot slotting it into the Internatzionale net with Onana stranded. Rodri, the regista, has been arguably City’s most integral player in the heart of that engine room.

At Barcelona, Guardiola had Busquets, a player in Guardiola’s mold, schooled by the Catalan boss himself, as vital and cerebral as the manager was during his playing days. It’s fair to say that Rodri has been groomed by regista royalty, in Guardiola, a thinker, an innovator.

“You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game,” as the infamous Vicente del Bosque quote goes. But when you watch Rodri, you can see how he’s always a thought, a movement, and an action ahead.

And so how befitting for the protege to reward his master, clinching that one title that was left out of the cabinet since Guardiola’s tenure at City began, that final piece of the jigsaw, that final ball, that final finish. The holy grail, that has eluded Man City for as far as time stretches.

But this is not about one player. Although, on a tough and turbulent night in Istanbul as Inter gave City a proper fight and pushed them all the way to the brink of combustion. Lautaro, you had to pass it. You just had to.

When Alfie Haaland played for Man City, they were relegated to the Championship in the 2000-01 season. But only a father can relate to how a father must feel when his son wins the grandest crowning glory of them all and witnesses him play for his old club and win not one trophy but a historic treble.

At the age of 22, Erling Haaland shook the footballing world in his debut season in the Premier League. We ran a predictive algorithm to predict Haaland’s goal tally at the start of the season and as it revealed over 60 goals, we thought, surely the computing is wrong. But Haaland almost hit that number with 52. Staggering.

The Norwegian was denied by Onana on the night but has been immense in City’s run to the treble.

The schematic constituents of this City team run deep. From Grealish on the wing to of course Kevin De Bruyne who can see a pass unlike any other. It was a shame that the Belgian genius hobbled off in the first half, but it was the diminutive Bernardo Silva who pulled the strings for the Sky Blues. Not just providing the assist for Rodri, but in the previous two legs against the high and mighty Real, in the semi-finals on their road to Istanbul, scoring twice and cementing himself as David Silva’s heir in City’s colours; heir apparent no more.

“Beckenbauer,” said Nathan Ake, in a one-word nickname for his teammate John Stones in a video on the UEFA Champions League’s Instagram account. “Talk about John Stones. Please, before Haaland,” said Guardiola, and how right he was. This season has seen John Stones’ metamorphosis as a complete defender, not just tasked with defending but carrying the ball out and slotting into midfield. By the end of the night, Stones had his shirt ripped by the Inter defense, but his pervading influence remained.

“Watch Stones in midfield and what strikes you above all is the speed and efficiency with which he moves the ball on. One touch, two touches, no flourish: it looks elementary, and in a way it is, but the value of those simple passes has a compound effect….. Since Stones started playing in midfield in early March, City have conceded a goal every 171 minutes. Before, they were conceding every 103 minutes. Haaland, for all his spectacular returns, was not the key to turning City’s season around. Quietly, it was Stones,” writes Johnathan Liew in the Guardian, and how paramount has Stones been in City’s march to the treble.

The City players all deserve individual and collective praise, but for the headmaster, for the driving force, for the orchestrator – Guardiola, this was the task he set out to do after his appointment as manager of City. The job is now finished.

Equalling Sir Alex Ferguson, in far fewer games, to bring the treble to Manchester, to win a treble as a manager of an English club, but this time for the “noisy-neighbours”, and that noise will be echoing from the streets of Turkey all the way to Manchester; this is their night. This is a night and season that will be etched into Man City folklore.

But in the case of Sir Alex’s treble, that was 1999, a different time and different era; this is a treble in the modern game, unheard of considering how rapidly the game is evolving and how competitive and data-driven, and complex the game has become.

For Inter, it was a night of what could have been. Lautaro’s pass, Lukaku inadvertently blocking DiMarco’s header and then missing a header with the entire goal to aim at but only heading it into Ederson. Inter must be lauded for pushing City to the brink. For Inzaghi, he pushed Guardiola right till the very end. Italian football has seen its resurgence this season, with AC Milan, Inter and Roma all making it to European semi-finals and finals respectively. But this was simply City’s season.

City went into the game as favourites, dubbed by Inzaghi as “the best team in the world”, and although mind games were at hand, it was the truth.

City almost bottled it, as the Inter players gave it their all, but this was City’s night to be engraved onto the trophy with the ‘big-ears’.

For the owners, since their takeover in 2008, it has been some ride. The Abu Dhabi group has turned City into a juggernaut, and this game saw Sheikh Mansour in attendance – only the second competitive game he’s watched his club play.

For all the talk about foreign takeovers and the money involved, this is now modern football. This is just how it is. As this particular United fan and thousands and millions of others would argue with tweets such as this:

This is simply the modern game. And United are perhaps in line for a rebirth under new owners too.

As Qatar looks at buying out Man United from the Glazers and with Newcastle under new ownership ahead of the start of the 2022/23 season that has seen them clinch a spot in the Champions Leauge, and for all the crevices and low points of Todd Boehly’s Chelsea takeover, football has seen its next evolution as perhaps a playground of the rich behind the scenes, it’s, however, making the game even more competitive and narrowing the gap between the clubs who have all seen new ownership and impetus.

Although the clubs without that kind of financial clout could find themselves dangerously dropping off in quality and league positions. But this is just how it is. FFP exists, but this is football in 2023.

Yes, the money involved is ridiculous, but it’s still a bloody difficult feat to win a treble in modern football.

Considering that, this is Guardiola’s greatest achievement. Without the generational Leo Messi and the equally generational Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets, this was the team he molded and the players who he transformed into world-beaters.

And for all the talk of overthinking and tinkering, Guardiola did drop Kyle Walker for the final tonight. But there would be no scratching of his scalp in confusion and disdain and lamenting his overthinking, as Thomas Tuchel got the better of him just a couple of seasons ago in 2020/21.

A night of redemption. A night of Guardiola’s tryst with his own design, process, and in the end his destiny. An iconic achievement of footballing glory. A night that will be talked about into the long reaches of football history.

A night when Guardiola firmly established his greatness as a manager in the modern game.

A night that he won the treble with City.

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