Manchester City are setting their sights on establishing a dynasty in English football and finally conquering Europe after their relentless march to a third Premier League title in seven seasons.
Pep Guardiola’s men have already matched one of the greatest sides of the Premier League era by winning the league with five games to spare to equal Manchester United’s record in 2000/2001.
The Premier League points and goals records are also likely to be smashed but the true test of whether City deserve their status in the list of all-time greats will be what comes next.
“I want to see the reaction from us next season as I’ve never been able to retain a title,” said club captain Vincent Kompany, a three-time Premier League winner.
Since City’s Abu-Dhabi owners started pouring in hundreds of millions to the club’s coffers a decade ago, Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini have also delivered titles but never sustained success.
This year’s title triumph is just the fifth in the club’s history, putting them well behind fierce rivals United, with a record 20 titles, but Guardiola’s side are now the pre-eminent team in the city and in the country.
“Retaining a title is the next step and City were not in the right state of mind,” said United’s former boss Alex Ferguson after retiring in 2013, having won the title back from City.
“When I won the league for the first time in 1993, I didn’t want my team to slacken off. The thought appalled me.”
Fortunately for City, they now have a coach as relentlessly dedicated to winning as Ferguson was.
Guardiola has now won seven league titles in nine seasons as a senior coach in three countries after conquering La Liga and the Bundesliga with Barcelona and Bayern Munich on multiple occasions.
The workaholic Catalan’s eye for detail in changing the culture at City has gone as far as dictating to the millimetre how long the grass should be at the club’s many training pitches and turning off the Wi-Fi at City’s Etihad campus to foster interaction between team-mates.
Value for money
Guardiola’s intensity can provoke burnout in himself and his players. He required a sabbatical after four draining years at Barcelona during which he won 14 trophies and he only ever planned to stay at Bayern for three seasons.
His City contract expires at the end of next season but the club are confident he will extend for at least one extra year.
“City hope to tie Guardiola to a new contract,” wrote Oliver Kay in The Times.
“They are delighted with his impact, but winning the title was just one part of the mission… they want to be champions again and again, establishing them as the dominant force in the Premier League.”
Backed by a level of spending never seen before in English football, Guardiola has amassed a squad capable of dominating for years to come.
Of the more than 500 million euros ($616 million) spent in transfer fees alone during Guardiola’s reign, the vast majority has been on players under the age of 25 in Gabriel Jesus (21), Leroy Sane (22), John Stones (23), Benjamin Mendy (23), Bernardo Silva (23), Aymeric Laporte (23) and Ederson (24).
“There will always be those who see the money spent as detracting from the beauty but Guardiola has also improved players and he has blended them to accentuate their assets,” said Jonathan Wilson in the Guardian. “Yes, money has been spent but City have got full value for it.”
Seven trophies have been won since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover, but one glaring one is missing.
Even Guardiola’s record-breakers have fallen short again in the Champions League, losing 5-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
“Sooner or later it’s going to happen,” insisted Guardiola, who has consistently stated City’s need to grow gradually on the European stage, having made the Champions League semi-finals just once in their history.
Guardiola has taken City back to the pinnacle of the English game. Keeping them there and finally breaking through their Champions League glass ceiling is now the challenge.