The full-time whistle hadn’t even blown on Manchester City’s FA Cup victory over Watford, a triumph that was delivered the very moment the first of six unanswered goals was scored, before historical comparisons, drawing parallels between Pep Guardiola’s Treble-winning side and other great English teams, were made.
Of course, City’s treble wasn’t The Treble as Manchester United pulled off back in 1999, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League all in one season. They aren’t invincible either as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team of 2003/04 were. Nonetheless, what Man City have done this season feels unprecedented.
Never before has a team (at least on the men’s side of the game) completed a clean sweep of England’s domestic trophies. More than that, though, the manner in which Man City effortlessly swept to those honours illustrated the strength of a side that might well be the best English football has ever seen.
Indeed, we are in new territory. The English game has never seen a team like Guardiola’s Manchester City before. Many others have dominated – Man Utd defined the 1990s while Liverpool made the 1980s their own – but City can over the next few years become untouchable, if they aren’t already.
They already boast one the strongest, deepest squad in the country, with two or three elite level players for every position, but the peak of their upward trajectory might not have been reached yet. Kevin de Bruyne, for instance, missed much of the past season through injury, but came on in the FA Cup mauling of Watford to remind everyone of his brilliance.
Imagine if he can maintain his fitness next season.
On top of this, City will strengthen again, as they always do, this summer. There is no club in European football as efficient at squad replenishment and so long term successors to Fernandinho and David Silva will almost certainly be found before the start of next season. Tanguy Ndombele and Bruno Fernandes, who could cost a combined £150 million, are two names linked.
It’s not just a solid transfer strategy and a black chequebook that makes City a new proposition. After all, Roman Abramovich gave Chelsea that. With Chelsea, however, there was always an implied end objective – the Champions League. Once that was achieved, the relentless drive that powered the club, primarily through Roman Abramovich, dissipated.
City also dream of the Champions League trophy, but their aims are bigger than that. This is a Gulf state using football to legitimise themselves in the eyes of the world. Sportswashing, it is dubbed. There is no end date placed on that. There is no trophy out there that would mark the completion of such an abstract objective.
Abu Dhabi have already pumped well over £1 billion into Manchester City over the past decade and there’s nothing to suggest they won’t spend the same again in the next 10 years. Couple this well of wealth with the best manager of his generation and the outlook for English football, at least from a competitive stance, is rather bleak.
Guardiola changes the core of every club he takes over. Barcelona won it all under Guardiola, but he also pointed the Catalan club in a direction that they are still following to this day. Guardiola only lifted three of the eight La Liga titles Barca have won in the past 11 years, but his fingerprints can be found all over the silverware and more significantly all over the identity of the club.
It’s the same with Bayern Munich, a club Guardiola made uncatchable at the top of the Germany game. Even in three seasons widely deemed below par following Guardiola’s exit, the Bavarians have managed to keep their Bundesliga crown. That is in no small part down to the values and ideology Guardiola instilled during his time there.
City’s dominance takes the game to a point it has never previously breached. The Premier League and English football in general was supposed to be the one major European league that couldn’t be gamed. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Paris Saint-German might be utterly dominant forces in their respective countries, but that could never happen in England.
At least, that was a common belief until it did happen.
Guardiola is a dynasty maker. European football has never been as predictable, as elitist as it is now, with the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A all fighting against the tide of title streaks – Barca have eight in 11 years, Bayern have eight in a row, Juventus have second in a row and PSG have six in seven years.
Guardiola set two of these teams on their way, three if you now count Man City, and recent reports claim Juventus could be his next stop off when the time eventually comes to leave the Etihad Stadium. He is, in a sense, one of the worst things to happen to European football and City’s supremacy, confirmed on Saturday, is his greatest mark of influence to date.