Champions League ban could tarnish Pep Guardiola’s reputation – is it tipping point for his Man City future?

James Robson
Evening Standard
REUTERS
REUTERS

What now for Pep Guardiola after Manchester City were handed a two-year Champions League ban?

The Catalan’s future is already the source of uncertainty, but confirmation from Uefa that the Premier League champions have been found guilty of “serious breaches” of financial fair play will only place further doubt over his position.

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Guardiola is out of contract at the end of next season – and has privately and publicly stated his intention to see out his deal.

But Friday’s sensational ruling could change everything.

Throughout the allegations that City mislead European football’s governing body over the money being invested by their Abu Dhabi owners, Guardiola has always maintained a position of plausible deniability.

“I trust the club and what they have done,” he said after Der Spiegel first published damaging leaked emails and documents in 2018. “Of course we want to follow the rules.”

The theme throughout is that the charges had nothing to do with Guardiola – particularly as they relate to events between 2012 and 2016, which was the year he took charge at the Etihad. And, of course, he has nothing to do with City’s finances.

But for a man so protective of his reputation, the danger of it being tarnished by association cannot be ignored.

For all of Guardiola’s unprecedented success at City, it has been achieved from a platform that has now been called into question. Friday’s ruling accuses the club of “overstating its sponsorship revenue.”

Against that backdrop they were able to secure some of the world’s finest players at huge cost in preparation for Guardiola’s arrival. Players like Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, who have been absolutely pivotal to winning five of the last six major domestic trophies.

Uefa have not specified whether the charges include Guardiola’s first summer window, which saw him sign Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and John Stones. With or without that trio, Guardiola took over a team that had already established itself at the summit of English football over the four years leading up to his arrival, as well as a Champions League mainstay. The springboard had been provided under the Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini years.

Sources who know Guardiola well insist he is insulated from accusations that his success is based on money, due to his obsessive focus on the training ground.

He sees the results of his hard work and attention to detail borne out on the pitch – regardless of the cost of his squad.

Yet privately he does acknowledge the constant jibes aimed in his direction after dominating in Spain, Germany and now England.

Close sources point to constant attempts to undermine his achievements. Success at Barcelona was all because of Lionel Messi. At Bayern Munich, because of the history of the shirt. And at City, because of the money.

The problem with this ruling is that it only serves to strengthen the last of those claims.

But quite apart from any potential damage to his pride, comes the blow to his ambition – his single greatest driving force.

Guardiola was lured to the Etihad in a bid to secure City’s Abu Dhabi owners their ultimate aim of conquering Europe. In three attempts so far, he’s fallen well short.

Should City’s plans to appeal the ruling fail to delay their ban, it leaves their manager with one final attempt to deliver the Champions League this season. That they face Real Madrid in the last 16 – is just one major hurdle in their way.

Guardiola’s reputation has been built on his two Champions League triumphs with his brilliant Barca.

A cloud has always hung over his time at Bayern after failing to even reach a final with a team that had been crowned kings of Europe the season before he arrived.

And for all his success in making City the dominant force in the Premier League, he has been powerless to stop Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool from usurping his back-to-back champions, while his German rival has already delivered European football’s biggest prize to Anfield.

In a campaign in which he’s already looked an increasingly frustrated figure to the point that his future has repeatedly been called into question – the fear for everyone at City will be that this could prove the ultimate tipping point.

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