Only miracle or disaster can stop Pep Guardiola from defending his Champions League crown
It is the task that awaits Copenhagen now. Perhaps it will be the challenge for one or more of the European giants – Bayern Munich or Barcelona, Real Madrid or Internazionale, Paris Saint-Germain or Arsenal – in a quarter-final, a semi-final or a final. How do you stop Pep Guardiola from retaining the Champions League? Because so far in his career, it has taken a volcano and a footballing miracle.
For much of the last seven years, the focus was on whether and when Guardiola could secure Manchester City’s first Champions League and how, amid a series of disappointments, his infamous overthinking contributed to their inability to do so. Yet put Guardiola in the position of defending champion and it has required the remarkable to halt him. In the years after his two previous European glories, he was not undone by his own errors as much as by greater forces.
A question now is if City will prove an era-defining team in Europe; it is beyond doubt that Guardiola’s Barcelona were. They are sometimes described as the finest club side ever, often ranked as the most influential and impressive since Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan. And yet the only team to record back-to-back Champions Leagues in the years since the Milan team of Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten were Real Madrid, in 2016, 2017 and 2018: lacking the philosophy of Guardiola’s Barcelona, less dominant domestically but with the pragmatism, the ability to seize the moment and the goalscorers, particularly Cristiano Ronaldo, to prevail in high-stakes knockout games.
It is, though, easy to imagine a world where Guardiola’s Barcelona were four-time champions; certainly they were good enough to be. But in 2010, an Icelandic volcano acquired an infamy in Catalonia; the eruptions of