By winning the Champions League for the first time, Manchester City have planted their flag in the history books and equalled Manchester United’s treble, but I don’t think this achievement is about legacy.
It’s about how they become Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. And there isn’t a magic answer; it’s about sustained and absolutely elite performance from the top to the bottom of the whole club.
Beating Inter Milan in Saturday’s final in Istanbul was not the destination, just part of the journey that City are on. It ticked the box that they needed to tick to get to the next level. The next challenge is consistent achievement in the Champions League.
Pep Guardiola acknowledged it himself after the match with a tongue-in-cheek comment about only being 13 behind Real Madrid’s tally of European Cups. I think City want to be at their level of status in 20 years’ time.
For all of the investment in the club over the last 15 years, the key element in their success is Pep. Real Madrid have a different model that relies more on buying stars, but City’s focus on development and talent identification represents the way the game is going.
Life will go on when Guardiola does decide to leave Manchester. After Johan Cruyff departed Barcelona, others whose philosophies he had helped to shape built on his work. Pep was one and took Barca to new levels.
He is a mentor too and we are already seeing the influence of the Guardiola way in a new wave of managers, from those who worked under him, such as Mikel Arteta, to those who look at tactics in a similar way, like Roberto De Zerbi.
I would love to see him at City another five years. I think he will want to challenge himself to achieve more with the club. Perfection is his goal – he won’t be happy until they steamroll Real Madrid 4-0 in a Champions League final – and they are not there yet.
I don’t like comparing different eras – Sir Alex Ferguson could say he won more; Pep has done it at multiple clubs – but we can say for sure that Guardiola is the best around today. He is the centre of the footballing world and he brings so much to the Premier League.
The Champions League final was a frustrating watch. I expected much more from City, although you have to recognise how well-drilled Inter were. That fact and the early injury to Kevin De Bruyne turned it into a different contest.
It became just about getting the job done. For all that these City players had achieved, you could see that they were anxious in a one-off game that had so much riding on it.
I thought Pep’s decision to leave out Kyle Walker backfired. Federico Dimarco, on Inter’s left flank, was getting regular crosses in, but City got away with it a little bit. The match became an arm-wrestle and Rodri took his chance when it came.
As for the players, they have now seen and felt what it takes to win the Champions League. Having lost the final two years ago, most of them have tasted both sides. They know that anything less won’t get them there, and that truly will change the club.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63.