Can Pep Guardiola Conquer Europe Again Without Lionel Messi?
Pep Guardiola is frequently referenced in discussions regarding the game's greatest coaches. Guardiola has no doubt written his name among the elites in football. Few coaches can match his achievements at club level.
He enjoyed huge success at Barcelona, winning 14 trophies in his four seasons at the club. Refining the Barcelona style to its purest form, he was labelled an instant genius. The Spanish boss became the youngest manager to win the Champions League when he led Barcelona to the trophy in his first season. Then he won it again over Manchester United.
However, since he left Camp Nou, Pep's success has been limited to the domestic front. He is yet to conquer Europe again. He has failed to win the Champions League with both Bayern Munich and Manchester City, leading some to suggest his genius may have been more down to the luck of having one Lionel Messi in his squad. Messi, of course, has won the competition in Pep's wake, although not this season.
What makes the issue more consequential is that other coaches without a "Messi figure" in their team have won the trophy. Jose Mourinho won it with Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010. Wesley Sneijder was the best player from those two champions. Rafael Benitez won with Liverpool in 2005 and Roberto Di Matteo with Chelsea in 2012. No one is going to suggest either Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard stand shoulder to shoulder with Messi in football's pantheon.
Guardiola inherited a Champions League winner when he arrived at the Allianz Arena in 2013. Jupp Heynchkes had left him Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, and Thomas Mueller but the Catalan boss could not replicate his predecessor's success.
To add insult to injury, it was Real Madrid who knocked Pep out of his first Champions League away from Camp Nou. The following season wasn't better; they bowed out at the quarter-final stage to Barcelona. In his final Bavarian season, the German giants were knocked out by Atletico Madrid in the semifinal.
His first season in the Premier League was a career worst. He did not win a trophy with Manchester City. In the Champions League, he was bested by another manager renowned for his positive attacking style. Leonardo Jardim and Monaco escaped a 6-6 aggregate draw in the quarterfinal on away goals.
This season, another attacking savant has put him to the sword. Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool advanced to the semifinals decisively, with a 5-1 aggregate victory and won in both legs.
City have an array of attacking players who are capable of winning the Champions League. Attention will be on Guardiola in 2018/19. It will be difficult enough to defend his soon-to-be Premier League crown, but he will also be pressured to do better in the domestic cups and, especially, in the Champions League. Such is the pressure when you have all the money and talent in the world at your disposal. There is no margin for error, no forgiveness. 'What could have been' this season must be next. Guardiola has to win it all. His reputation depends on it.