Champions League: Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is interested in signing Lionel Messi

Champions League Losses Grate for Guardiola

The irony of writing this editorial today, of all days, isn’t lost on me.

For earlier this evening came the news that shocked football as Lionel Messi handed in a transfer request. Some irony has given that, at exactly the same time, Manchester City are looking for something special to give them the edge in the Champions League.

Of course, there are few clubs in world football who could afford or even have the appeal to lure the Argentine maestro.

Yet City is one of those clubs due to its untold riches and, perhaps crucially, its manager Pep Guardiola.

For it was Guardiola who was the manager of the finest side Messi has ever played in and, perhaps, the best club side of all time.

Furthermore, Europe’s top honour is the one prize that has eluded City since it was taken over in 2008 and, given the vast outlay in the 12 years since, it is a massive underachievement the side has only once reached the semi-finals of the competition.

Last week’s defeat to unfancied Lyon was yet another setback, some would say embarrassment, as City went out in the quarter-final stage for the third successive season, while the club Guardiola left to move to Manchester was crowned champions of Europe.

 

During a decade in which they have gone onto becoming English football’s dominant team, City’s forays into Europe have produced some wonderful nights but largely nine years of almost near misses and underachievement.

It remains a millstone around the club’s neck and something of an embarrassment that the biggest spending club in the world has never progressed beyond one solitary semi-final.

That came in 2016 under Manuel Pellegrini as City were knocked out by Real Madrid who went on to win the first of three consecutive titles.

True, had it not been for chances spurned this season, then City could well have progressed beyond the quarter-finals.

True, they were without their prolific marksman Sergio Aguero in this season’s later stages.

However, the fact remains they were knocked out by underdogs for the fourth successive season – a body blow to all involved – and it’s also questionable that, even had they reached the semi-finals, they would have been able to keep out eventual winners Bayern.

The question marks about Guardiola on the biggest stage remain, other than the side he inherited at Barcelona and fine-tuned.

When his Barca side were found out, he took a sabbatical before taking over at the reigning European champions in Munich and they went backwards in European competition.

Three years later, he arrived at the world’s richest club, fresh from reaching a semi-final, and they’ve not been back since.

There have, of course, been breakthroughs – and so there should be given the huge financial outlay.

But even the victories against Europe’s top clubs go no way to disguising knockout defeats to the likes of Lyon and Monaco whose sides cost a fraction of their opponents.

To put it into context, City raided Monaco for arguably their best two players shortly after that and it still hasn’t been enough.

How the club’s manager and hierarchy thought they could get away without replacing influential skipper Vincent Kompany last summer remains one of the biggest and most costly mysteries of football in recent times.

At Europe’s top table next season, they will need to significantly strengthen at the back.

They have started well by bringing in defender Nathan Ake and the winger Ferran Torres for a combined £65.5 million. They will need more.

Champions League: Lionel Messi hands in Barcelona transfer request

Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona against Real Madrid

But just imagine if one of those recruits is Messi.

Desperate to finally win the Champions League, signing the Argentine would help them on their way and join one of his closest friends, Aguero, at the club.

Teams pay hard for mistakes at Champions League level. It is the ultimate test of mentality and, for Guardiola, it appears to be getting more onerous.

There is also no getting away from this. Big spends equal greater jeopardy and pressure.

It seems unless there is an improvement, the question of whether he will succeed in Europe will raise its head again and, this time, at a faster pace.

Could Messi be the missing link?

 

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