Everybody knows the story by now…but I’ll tell it anyway. In 2008, Barcelona were in trouble; ever since their Champions League triumph against Arsenal in 2006, things went a little downhill. It was time for change. And so, the legend began: two men, one job. Pep Guardiola. Jose Mourinho. The latter had begun their coaching career at Barcelona under Louis van Gaal and had since gone from strength to strength, showing his tactical nous at both Porto and Chelsea. The former, the Barcelona B manager at the time, was a past and highly respected player. But there could only be one. The decision was supposedly made by another club legend – the man who made all the decisions at Barcelona, Johan Cruyff. The judgement was made and in May 2008, Guardiola was announced as the new manager of FC Barcelona where he would coach possibly the best team football has ever seen, winning fourteen trophies in four seasons, including two Champions League titles.
The club’s hierarchy seem to have more cover ups than a Middle Eastern dictatorship (oh wait…).
Mourinho probably didn’t like that very much; incidents since Guardiola’s appointment (mainly when Jose took over at arch-rivals Real Madrid) seem to prove this. But the story I want to tell you before I get to my point is of the Champions League semi-final in 2010 between Barcelona and Inter Milan. At the final whistle of the second leg, the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’, having just knocked out Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate, lifted his hands to the sky and frantically ran around the pitch at the Camp Nou. Such a reaction angered both the fans and the players, leaving a sour taste for future meetings. Why am I telling this story? Well, Mourinho did that because yes, he is a wind-up merchant and a shithouse, but also because he felt vindicated. At that moment, Jose felt he had stuck it to Barcelona, and to Pep, for not choosing him two years previous.
On 13 July 2020, Manchester City were cleared to play in the Champions League by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) despite still being found guilty of breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules and fined €10 million. And so, when Guardiola leads his team out again against Real Madrid in this summer’s strange but intriguing tournament, we have quite the story on our hands. Pep is a very different manager to Mourinho, a very different man altogether. But it would not be a sight out of belief to imagine him tearing round a pitch, hands aloft, at the final whistle of the tournament in Lisbon. Vindicated. Sticking it to UEFA.
Manchester City have a seemingly…complex, shall we say, relationship with UEFA. Since 2014, when allegations and a first sanction was applied, the City fans have famously booed the anthem when played at their matches with various banners and songs targeting UEFA in the crosshairs. Overall, the defence of Man City’s financial wrongdoings by fans has been rather baffling – the club’s hierarchy seem to have more cover ups than a Middle Eastern dictatorship (oh wait…) But maybe it is easier to understand their sense of aggrievement with a case that has rolled on for over six years now. Football has always been an “us against them” sport and the City fans definitely have that in their arsenal this season.
I don’t really want to get bogged down with who is right, who is wrong? Who has been harshly judged or whether or not football really is “over”? Life is way too complicated to be this black and white. What is really interesting is the story we now have in front of us. What could unravel in Portugal? If this fine Man City team do indeed go all the way, what a tale we have on our hands. Pep is a manager who loves pumping his team up, giving them something to fight for. Before the Champions League final in Rome in 2009, he even had a montage made to a song from the film Gladiator (2000) on Barcelona’s route to the final (the players were in tears and have since said it definitely shook them up for the first ten minutes of the game). Guardiola will have no need for uplifting, inspirational videos or music this summer. His team talk is likely to consist of only this: “Fuck UEFA.”