Man City’s 115 charges and Pep Guardiola’s exit are looming despite latest triumph

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain celebrate with the trophy after winning the Premier League

Nothing drew attention to the elephant in the room quite like the absence of the Premier League’s chief executive at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Richard Masters has attempted to downplay the significance of his decision to go to the Emirates to watch Arsenal rather than see Manchester City clinch an unprecedented fourth Premier League title by insisting there was nothing “particularly scientific” behind the move.

Had it been Arsenal, not City, holding the two-point advantage heading into the final day, it would have been a logical choice to pitch up in north London.

But, in the circumstances, it was hard to escape the feeling that Masters was happy to spare himself the awkwardness of handing over the trophy to the very club his organisation have hit with 115 charges for alleged financial irregularities, which City – of course – strenuously deny.

So it was left to Alison Brittain, the Premier League’s chair who keeps a low profile and probably had plenty of City fans guessing as to her identity, to present the trophy to City’s captain Kyle Walker and exchange pleasantries with the players and manager Pep Guardiola.

It is hard to believe anyone of a City persuasion was thinking too much about those charges as Walker hoisted the Premier League trophy into the air and they basked in their new-found status as the only club in English football history to win four consecutive league titles.

But there is also little doubt that the next 12 months could present two huge obstacles for City, on and off the field, as they bid to extend this era of extraordinary dominance.

The Premier League case, which is expected to come to a head in some form over the course of next season, should present enough of a headache on its own, even if City are convinced they will be exonerated and this talk of asterisks and tainted titles quashed once and for all.

But City will also have the small matter of Guardiola’s future to resolve – an elephant in the room of a different kind. The City manager’s contract expires at the end of next season and he did not sound like a man certain to extend it by any means when the subject was raised.

“The reality is I am closer to leaving than staying,” he said. “We have talked with the club – my feeling is that I want to stay now. I will stay next season and during the season we will talk. But [after] eight or nine years [at City] – we will see.”

City could face an unprecedented range of punishments including points deductions, sweeping fines and the ultimate sanction of expulsion from the League should they be found guilty of the charges that now cast a shadow over a second consecutive title win. But the prospect of Guardiola calling it a day a year from now presents all kinds of other threats and unknowns.

Liverpool’s departing manager, Jurgen Klopp, made an interesting point when he suggested over the weekend that, for all the furore around the charges, City would not have won four in a row had they not had Guardiola in charge, praise that almost brought the Catalan to tears on Sunday as he reflected on their rivalry.

City may be one of the best-run clubs in Europe but, just as Liverpool fans are now unsure how a post-Klopp world will look, City without Guardiola will instantly be weaker. They need only look across the road at the state of Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement to know how devastating the impact of losing a master manager can be.

Sounding starting pistol on another busy summer

Equally, City’s executives will know that this summer may be the last – for a while at least – from which they are operating from this level of strength.

Guardiola responded to City’s latest title success by declaring they had “got the message from Mikel [Arteta] and his [Arsenal players]” and that they would “have to make the right decisions in the next years because they [Arsenal] are here to stay”.

It sounded like Guardiola sounding the starting pistol on another busy summer and City will doubtless view it as a prime opportunity to strengthen, particularly with all the uncertainty ahead and some of the pillars of their success not getting any younger.

Kyle Walker celebrates his 34th birthday next week and Kevin De Bruyne turns 33 next month. John Stones is 30 on Friday and Bernardo reaches the same milestone in August. Renewal will be required and City can at least head into this window free from the stresses that may soon be around the corner.

“Are you watching Arsenal?” chanted the City fans as they revelled in another title success. They were and they probably have their own view on things. Some Arsenal supporters, who now know how their Liverpool counterparts felt in 2019 and 2022, could be heard chanting “you’re cheats and you know you are” outside the Emirates as they headed home to reflect on what might have been.

City emphatically refute such suggestions but a season of reckoning awaits.