Manchester City’s next target? European dominance

Ferran Soriano (left to right), Pep Guardiola, Khaldoon al-Mubarak pose with the Champions League trophy - Manchester City’s next target: An era of domestic and European dominance
Ferran Soriano (left to right), Pep Guardiola and Khaldoon al-Mubarak pose with the Champions League trophy in Istanbul after Manchester City finally won the biggest prize in European club football following their victory over Inter Milan - Getty Images/James Gill

A few days after Manchester City finally ended that wait for Champions League glory, the club’s hierarchy convened in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Mansour, City’s owner, hosted a special ceremony at the Qasr Al Watan palace. Manager Pep Guardiola, naturally, was there; so too were Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, chief executive Ferran Soriano, chief operating officer Omar Berrada and Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the club’s influential chairman.

It was a chance to celebrate that victory over Inter Milan in Istanbul and to reflect on how far the club had come in the 15 years since the takeover but also an opportunity to look forward, which included extensive discussion of their summer transfer plans.

There had been disappointment for City in the market in the weeks before the final when it finally became apparent Jude Bellingham would be joining Real Madrid and not them and then, a few weeks after the triumph in Turkey, the Treble winners pulled out of the running for Arsenal-bound Declan Rice.

A move for West Ham’s Lucas Paqueta also had to be abandoned when it emerged that the Brazil international midfielder was under investigation by the Football Association for alleged betting rule breaches. By the end of the summer, though, City were happy with the recruits they did make – Mateo Kovavic, Josko Gvardiol, Jérémy Doku and Matheus Nunes – and the players they had managed to retain, not least Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker, both of whom have since signed new contracts.

Copy Manchester City summer transfer window 2023: Players in
Copy Manchester City summer transfer window 2023: Players in

More than £170 million of the club’s £215 million gross spend was recouped through sales as Al-Mubarak’s drive to create a sustainable club gathered further momentum, even if there is no escaping all those Premier League charges they have hanging over them.

Yet the talk among City’s powerbrokers in Abu Dhabi in those June meetings centred on a lot more than just the window and the immediate months to follow. With five wins from five games in the Premier League so far, City have made a strong start as they bid to become the first top-flight club in English football history to win four successive league titles.

But Sheikh Mansour, Guardiola, Begiristain, Soriano, Berrada and Al-Mubarak were all agreed that the next step was to transfer that level of domestic dominance on to the European scene. As one senior source put it: “We’d like to now replicate that in the Champions League.”

Finalists in 2021, semi-finalists the following year, victors last season, that process is already under way in truth but, as City prepare to begin the defence of their inaugural Champions League crown at home to Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday, they are not going to downplay their desire to become serial winners of the competition. “It’s definitely our aim,” the source added. “We think the mark of great European teams is having that success consistently in Europe.”

Guardiola: We haven't done anything special in Europe yet
Guardiola: We haven't done anything special in Europe yet

City hoping to ape Guardiola’s feats from Barça days

That does not mean City are going to guarantee winning three of the next six European Cups, but it is clear there will be no let up, a position Guardiola will be busy reiterating in private. “It’s the opposite of relaxing after winning the Champions League,” the source said.

Real Madrid won five European Cups in the space of nine seasons from 2013 to 2022. Barcelona lifted the trophy four times over a decade between 2005 and 2015, two of which were won with Guardiola as manager. They are the sort of feats City want to ape and, while nothing can be taken for granted, it would be a shock if they did not emerge as winners from a group also containing RB Leipzig and Young Boys to reach the round of 16 for an 11th consecutive season.

With Harry Kane now on board, Bayern Munich – who face City’s bitter local rivals Manchester United at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday – should be stronger than the side beaten by Guardiola’s team in the quarter-finals last season. The arrival of the formidable Bellingham – the one who got away for City – has already elevated Real and Barcelona, the reigning Spanish champions, are re-emerging as a force again. Of England’s other Champions League entrants, Arsenal represent the biggest threat.

But it is still hard to look past City as the team the rest of Europe has to beat, even if the target of trying to become repeat winners will bring with it a different kind of pressure to that with which the club were wrestling for years before their itch was scratched.