Hello. It’s a reflection of Manchester City’s achievement and ambition that they could end this season by doing an anticlimactic Treble. They have invested so much in the Champions League – financially, emotionally, literally – that even a clean sweep of domestic trophies would not satisfy everyone.
This, thus, is a seriously big night, particularly for Pep Guardiola. Only three managers – Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane – have won the European Cup more often, yet it still feels like he has underachieved in this competition. He won it twice in his first three seasons at Barcelona. Since then his record – relative to his pitiless domestic dominance – has verged on the abysmal.
We expect most coaches to build towards Champions League glory; the long road to the promised land and all that. In fact, many build down from it, their careers a HANG ON, WHAT’S THE BLOODY ANTONYM OF CRESCENDO, YOU’VE BITTEN OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW HERE SMYTH, YOU’RE IN TOO DEEP MAN! distressing and confusing diminuendo. At Barcelona and Bayern, Guardiola never failed to reach the semi-finals. At City he has gone out in the last 16 and the quarters. He has also, since leaving Barcelona, developed a predilection for damaging and possibly gratuitous demonstrations of his tactical IQ, most recently in last week’s first-leg defeat at Spurs.
But here’s the but. In a post-Twitter world, the line between fraud and Goat is irrationally thin. If City win the Champions League this year, especially if it’s part of an almost unprecedented quadruple, Pep’s lost years in this competition will be airbrushed from the old narrative.
If they don’t, and particularly if they go out to an admirable but inferior and injury-hit Tottenham Hotspur tonight, he’s going to hear plenty about it over the next 12 months – and not only from experts who have won the Champions League multiple times in their bedroom.
I’m loath to say City want to win this tie more than Spurs, but they surely need it more. That could be an advantage, or a disadvantage. Eventually, as anyone who has been a teenage boy can solemnly confirm, there comes a point when you need something too much for your own good.
Do City need it too much? No idea. And I’ll level with you: I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen tonight either. But I can’t wait to find out.
Big night, this.
Kick off is at 8pm.