Man City secure landmark Champions League victory
It didn’t quite happen in the way expected, but Manchester City of course made it inevitable. The English champions have finally become the European champions to complete a treble and also bring a long-term Abu Dhabi project to its culmination. At least at this stage of it. After a 1-0 win over Internazionale that will offer a release as much as relief, it’s hard not to think they could go on and win it again and again, confirming Pep Guardiola as the greatest coach of all time.
The Catalan already has a strong claim to that, after at last winning his third Champions League, a full 12 years after his second, to also become the first coach to win two trebles. It makes it all the greater that it is at two different clubs.
There was no overthinking this time, even if a defiant and proud Internazionale did make City worry for long periods of the game.
That also ensured City had to fight, in a way they haven’t been used to over three months when they have looked the closest team to football perfection the game has ever seen. This wasn’t that. The manner of victory was instead fitting in its own way as a passing midfielder in Rodri scored the goal that City will now replay and rejoice in as much as Sergio Aguero’s in 2012.
The Spanish midfielder is a player in Guardiola’s own image, perhaps his perfect ideal, and he gave his manager the picture he has long craved. There was Guardiola lifting this grand trophy again, actually his fourth as a player and manager.
It was quite a game for owner Sheikh Mansour to watch as his second in person, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates taking his place alongside the club hierarchy.
From that, it can also be noted that Abu Dhabi has its European Cup.
A state-owned club has won this grandiose continental competition for the first time, and that should provoke wider debate about where the game is.
It cannot be overlooked in all the discussion of how supreme this team is. That is why they are supreme. It is ultimately why Guardiola is here.
It is also why the game has changed so much, to the point the only real surprise from this match – and that against European Cup royalty like Internazionale – was that City didn’t put in the grand exhibition befitting the scale of their achievement.
This was not 2011 or 1960. It is the future, though. A star in his early 20s like Erling Haaland was strangely subdued in this match, so he will eventually want his goal in a Champions League final. There is more to come, although the only bittersweet note for City was that Kevin De Bruyne did not get to gild this moment of glory with his brilliance.
This purest of footballers again suffered the unfairness of having to come off injured in a Champions League final, and it did play into why City were so inhibited for so long.
That is where these players deserve credit, for the way they dug in. This threatened to become a very different sort of occasion, and one where all the old criticisms about nerves and the weight of history could have played on them.
City instead made it something else. They found something else, and just had more. Many would say they were just always going to have more, given the huge gap between the clubs. The nature of the goal was as telling as it was fitting.
It was the first period where they applied real pressure. The ball came back to Rodri and he applied the perfect finish.
It was a strike befitting the quality of football Guardiola sides so often play, all the more so since this wasn’t one of those displays.
Simone Inzaghi’s side deserve huge praise for that. The manager’s gameplan made this mismatched final much more of a game of this than anyone expected, and Inter are actually left feeling they could have done so much more themselves. This may well be seen as one that got away, but it was actually three great chances that got away.
One so cruelly bounced off substitute Romelu Lukaku. It wasn’t going to go their way. It wasn’t to be his moment. Inter may not get as close for a long time.
City have finally got over the line, and may well stay here a long time. They have become the 23rd club to win this competition but the first state club. They are also European champions who have been charged with multiple alleged breaches of their domestic competition’s regulations. That will weigh over all this and bring an uncertainty until it is finally concluded, whenever that may be.
The outcome of this almost always felt a certainty, though, even if Inter did well to bring some doubt. There is no doubt about this team’s greatness, or the project’s completeness. It is a landmark, in so many ways even beyond a treble.