For around a decade now, Manchester City have been the neutral’s favourite to win England’s biggest competitions.
You see, the fans of Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are simply too unbearable to allow them to enjoy success. Tottenham have rarely been close enough to tangible success. City were the perfect middle ground – they were a largely inoffensive club who hadn’t won much since the early 1970s.
Gary Neville said in 2014 of a title race between City and Liverpool that it was like ‘having the choice of two blokes to nick your wife’, though that feeling wasn’t mutual outside of Manchester. Since then, City have won three of the last four Premier League titles, four successive EFL Cups and one FA Cup. They were the first – and so far only – team to reach 100 points in English top-flight history, and yet that’s still not enough. There’s a new generation of City fans that only know of winning.
Pep Guardiola has further cemented his place among football’s greatest ever managers. But his tactical ingenuity has to take the backseat for now, because winning the Champions League is all that will matter from here on in at the Etihad Stadium.
City launched a £100m move for Jack Grealish on Friday as they look to add more depth to the most stacked team in world football, a side where key players such as Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling are already unhappy with their playing time. ‘Pep roulette’ has been a term normalised by players of Fantasy Premier League because of Guardiola’s crazy rotation of his star players.
At this point, analysing City’s tactics and trying to replicate them is like me purchasing a book from Jeff Bezos on how to become a billionaire.
Guardiola has preached time and time again that poor City are being priced out of moves for some of world football’s best talents, that they ‘cannot replace‘ striker Sergio Aguero (a notion that the player’s dad openly mocked). Signing Grealish could take City’s spending past the £900m mark since Guardiola took over in 2016.
They’ve had the luxury of the coronavirus pandemic hardly hitting the club’s finances. Meanwhile, the newly-crowned champions of France and Italy have been selling off some of their best talent in order to stay afloat.
The good news for City’s Premier League rivals is it could mean they wouldn’t have enough left in the tank to pursue Harry Kane, so, every cloud. You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?
Maybe this is just another sign that football is broken and it’s not really City’s fault that the best team in the land is so freely able to make moves like this. If you had the resources to further strengthen your team in this way, why wouldn’t you?
The problem is the Champions League is the last major honour left for City to win, and they probably should have triumphed last year, freezing in the final against Chelsea. Most teams spend obscene amounts of money in order to punch up, not down, and signing Grealish is hardly a priority to a team with so many options in his position already.
Ahead of that final back in May, the narrative once again doing the rounds was that City hired Guardiola in order to win the Champions League. That was the main goal, and it’s true. Should the club’s spending lead to Grealish or Kane, then there will be a huge black mark next to Guardiola’s name in footballing debates for years if he’s unable to bring the European Cup to Eastlands.
Thomas Tuchel beating this City team having coached a Chelsea side that was a weird amalgamation of different managerial visions for under half a year was a much more impressive managerial achievement than anything Guardiola has done for a couple of seasons at least.
City are probably the favourites to conquer Europe this season regardless of whether Grealish or Kane join. They’re still the most well-oiled machine with many of their best players in their prime, and half of the elite clubs on the continent are rebuilding and recovering from the pandemic anyway. But the pressure is ramping up on them.