Before this May’s disappointing loss against Chelsea, it really seemed that this year might be the year that Manchester City finally managed to snag a Champions League win. Doing it the same year that they won the Premier League would also have been a nice touch. Tensions were obviously running high before the match, for both the players and the fans, and maybe it was that extra pressure of trying to win both major competitions that ended up costing them the trophy. Man City may have won a European trophy in 1970 but that was a long, long time ago and their failure to ever secure a Champions League win when Manchester United has won three times has to trouble fans. What are the chances that Man City will ever find European glory again?
Early years in Europe
Man City’s start in Europe was rocky but quickly improved. After being eliminated early in the 1969 Cup finals, they came back to win the 1970 European Cup Winners’ Cup (the equivalent of today’s Europa League) final against Polish team Górnik Zabrze. This win established their entry into European football as a team with potential. Interestingly, considering this year’s results, it was Chelsea that prevented them from being able to hold on to their title in 1971. The rest of the decade saw several other Cup appearances but nothing to match their earlier outing.
Not so smooth sailing
If streaming and betting sites like LiveGoals.com had existed during the 80s and 90s, it’s safe to say that betting on Man City to win the Champions League would have been a terrible idea. Those two decades saw a huge decline in Man City’s quality as a team. This was due in part to poor management that spent lavishly and ruined the club’s finances. They were relegated twice in the 1980s but both times managed to claw their way back. Man City were one of the founding teams of the Premier League in 1992 but by the end of the decade they had been relegated all the way down to Division Two. This is one of the greatest falls from grace of footballing history, as they were only the second team ever to be doubly relegated after winning a European trophy.
Obviously, Man City did not qualify for a single European competition during this era. In fairness, they would have qualified for the UEFA Cup competition in 1992 but the ban on participation by English football clubs following the Heysel Stadium disaster had reduced the number of spaces allotted to English teams following the lifting of the ban. This was a dark period for the club when their status as the second-tier Manchester team seemed guaranteed.
Pepping it up with Guardiola
2016 saw the start of a new era for Man City as Pep Guardiola became manager, replacing Manuel Pellegrini. Under Guardiola’s leadership, the club won the Premier League title for the 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21 seasons. His talent as a manager coupled with the team’s almost limitless budget – courtesy of Sheikh Mansour, the new owner – has made Man City at times seem unstoppable.
However, their two Premier League games against Leeds United this season showed that even when you are sitting at the top of the table it’s still dangerous to become too complacent. In particular, their 2-1 loss at home to a captainless Leeds after a red card suggests that Man City has some weak spots, both in their attack and in their mental game.
Some have suggested that Man City’s failure to win the Champions League competition is more a failure on Guardiola’s part than that of the team. Guardiola, despite his stellar record as a manager, has never won a Champions League trophy. Perhaps, as Sam Lee suggests, these cumulative failures to secure the European title have led him to overthink his strategy for the match and get too tangled up in being innovative to win.
While many bemoan the fact that wealthy clubs can essentially buy their way to success, in the highly commercialised world of professional football today there is little that can be done about that. Manchester City has the finances and the coaching talent to continue to shape their team into one that could dominate the Champions League competition and the Premier League. With such a close finish this season, the likelihood of Guardiola signing Harry Kane might just provide the striking power the team needs to succeed next year.