The pinnacle Pep Guardiola is building this club towards and a point European football has long been heading towards. Manchester City didn’t win the Champions League or the treble, but they overcame the toughest challenge by eliminating the defending champions in a 4-0 win that was more than easy.
The first half hour was perhaps Guardiola’s best period of football in Europe and perhaps the best any English club has ever witnessed on this stage. It will certainly be considered a statement performance when City can finally lift the trophy in Istanbul as they take the stage for the second time. Ironically, Real Madrid was humiliated. The entire game stayed in City’s wake. Internazionale will need something of a miracle to beat them, City’s level is so high. This is why so many referred to this as the actual finale. In the end, City reached Istanbul without much difficulty. They have fallen behind just three times in all games in the last four months.
It just never looked like it would be something like that again. From the start of the game, City were determined to prevent a repeat of last season’s elimination. it was a storm The way they performed in Madrid and the way Thibaut Courtois first worked miracles himself to stop them briefly gave the impression that it was going to be one of those nights again.
City just came with so much power that they totally blew it away. Instead, it turned out to be one of the club’s greatest nights.
It wasn’t just about that power, irresistible as it was. The game was ultimately opened and effectively decided by the remarkable finesse of Kevin De Bruyne. After an initial period in which City tried to cross Madrid to Haaland, the Belgian then played the most divine back pass to just get Bernardo Silva in space to flick the ball past Courtois. The goalkeeper had no chance this time.
That was the least Bernardo had earned for his recent performances, and soon he was getting more. Madrid caved under the pressure again. Bernardo went home. That was it after just 37 minutes, but it felt done long before that. An Eder Militao own goal in the 76th minute made Madrid’s penalty worse as City played around and through them. Julian Alvarez then managed to turn an all-around convincing win into humiliation.
It was perhaps the defeat that Madrid had long expected. It would always be the city that exposed them.
The fans happily performed the “pose” as their players simply enjoyed possession in the manner Guardiola demanded. The dance itself was reminiscent of earlier times when the club had started this journey as part of this project, but had not yet been on stages as great as the other Champions League finals.
It was joyful.
That should also lead to more complicated discussions that very few people actually enjoy having, as they enjoy shows like this.
Any discussion of England’s best-ever performance in Europe really needs to be put into context, such as the fact that this is a state project by Abu Dhabi, which is also the most lavish sporting project of all time.
Because of this, that incredible superiority was inevitable, as was the City goal in the early stages. Even the randomness of cup football doesn’t stand up to it forever. Guardiola was able to reach a point of perfection thanks to perfect conditions and an infrastructure that was almost created.
This is brilliantly intelligent planning. It’s also obvious that very few other clubs can afford something like this because they simply don’t have the support they need at this time.
This period also explains modern football. The history of modern football is that about 15 years ago, a group of autocratic states, motivated by a strong regional rivalry, got involved with football and saw it as a powerful new area of expansion. This, also fueled by sport’s takeover of Western capitalism, has led to the long-term distortion.
Is this good for the sport?
No one can deny that it is good to watch, albeit often at a level that transcends pure sport as a competition. This was certainly an example of that. It was never a competition.
The European champion was humiliated. New European champions are about to be crowned.
It’s all part of the show. It’s also part of broader political ambitions that raise questions about sports laundry and human rights abuses. It also gives context to these allegations made by the Premier League and how this return to the Champions League final would also have been the club’s return to Europe had the Arbitration Court for Sport not overturned Uefa’s penalty in 2020 .
None of this should be taken as sympathy for Madrid. They have been one of the most responsible factors in today’s football landscape. The game has been disproportionately influenced by their claims for so long. The world they created was just beyond their control and they were severely brutalized as a result.
However, the rise of the city only continues this process. Over the past 40 years, football has become increasingly tiered and stretched financially, with the top end becoming increasingly narrow. Fewer clubs can win every few years. State ownership has taken this to a new level.
Guardiola took this city to the extreme. Another treble awaits, but this is the most triumphant of them all.
The city is not there yet. But like so much in the game right now, it feels inevitable.