On June 10, 2023, Pep Guardiola finally delivered on his remit at Manchester City. Premier League titles are lovely, but it was Champions League glory that everyone at the Etihad Stadium considered to be the Holy Grail.
With big money invested and several near-misses endured, the Citizens dragged themselves across a continental prize-winning line when edging out Inter 1-0 at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul – with Spanish midfielder Rodri proving to be the hero of the hour.
City, of course, also helped themselves to another Premier League crown and an FA Cup success as part of a historic Treble.
MANCHESTER CITY ARE CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE 🏆 pic.twitter.com/HkU6x3S3Zc— GOAL (@goal) June 10, 2023
The question now is: Can they repeat those exploits in 2023-24? They are expected to go well again on home soil, while Champions League odds have them sat at +200 for another European triumph. They will certainly take some stopping, with football tips seemingly forever weighted in favor of the Blues.
Guardiola, who had gone 12 long years since his last Champions League win as a manager at Barcelona, is not convinced that City can complete another haul of three major honors. He has said: “It is once in a lifetime. It will not be possible to do what we did last season. We climbed the highest mountain last season.”
City have grown accustomed to scaling such heights and will not want to give up any pieces of silverware without a fight. They have spent again during another transfer window and boast enough talent at their disposal to suggest that anything is possible.
History, though, is not on their side.
Only one team in the Champions League era, dating all the way back to 1990, have managed to claim back-to-back continental crowns. Real Madrid achieved that and then some, with the Blancos winning three in a row between 2016 and 2018.
City may have reached two of the last three finals, winning one, but they will be all too aware of how difficult it can be to repeat. They are, as the reigning kings of European football, very much there to be shot at.
To put the challenge facing them into further perspective, you have to turn the clock back to 1980 to find the last time that an English club was able to lift the famous European Cup at the end of two consecutive campaigns.
Nottingham Forest were the team to achieve that feat with the legendary Brian Clough at their helm. They battled their way past Malmo in 1979, with million-pound man Trevor Francis sealing a 1-0 win, before prevailing by the same scoreline 12 months on against Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg.
City have completed part one of trying to emulate the fabled ‘Miracle Men’ from the City Ground, with one narrow final victory under their belt, but can they break a 44-year cycle by replicating those efforts in 2024?
Guardiola may not be holding out much hope in public, but coaches will forever seek to curb expectations and follow the ‘one game at a time’ mantra. If anybody is capable of following in Forest’s illustrious footsteps, though, then it may well be City.