Belfast Telegraph

Blues one step closer to joining European elite

By Mark Ogden

Pep Guardiola was in the top 10 trends on Twitter yesterday afternoon. Not just in Manchester, Munich or England, but worldwide.

These things really should not matter, but in the modern world of image, social media and brand resonance, grabbing global attention and owning the narrative has become as much part of football as putting the ball in the back of the net.

From that perspective, Manchester City struck one in the top corner from 30 yards at around 1pm yesterday by confirming the worst-kept secret in the game with the revelation Guardiola will become manager at the Etihad Stadium this summer. The world was talking about Guardiola and, as a result, also talking about City.

It was on transfer deadline day in September 2008 when City first experienced the rush of being at the centre of the football universe.

Sheikh Mansour's £210m takeover had been the first tremor, followed by the late attempt to hijack Manchester United's £30.75m move for Tottenham forward Dimitar Berbatov, before the £32.5m British record signing of Robinho, the Brazil forward, from Real Madrid in the final hour of the window delivered the message City's new Abu Dhabi hierarchy meant business.

City talked the talk initially, but the early declarations of ambition and intent have since been ticked off, one by one, to the extent the club now dominates its city, has become a domestic powerhouse and is also threatening to break into the platinum elite of the Champions League alongside Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Luring Guardiola to east Manchester means City are now one step closer to achieving that goal of Champions League success and earning the worldwide recognition that comes with being a sporting operation which delivers consistently on and off the pitch.

Despite winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup since Sheikh Mansour's arrival eight years ago - they are in this month's Capital One Cup final too - City continue to fight against the perception they are an artificially inflated club, built purely on their owner's vast fortune.

They have been accused of lacking United's history and tradition, that they cannot yet match Chelsea's decade of sustained success and still do not know how to progress past baby steps in the Champions League.

But as United have discovered over the past three years, money does not guarantee success, and Chelsea continue to search for the relative managerial stability that has become the norm at City, who will be employing their fourth manager in eight years, when Guardiola replaces Manuel Pellegrini at the club.

City are simply reaping the rewards of a long-term strategy which has taken them from being the other club in Manchester to the one which is the destination of choice for the world's best manager and the best players.

But Guardiola's arrival signals the elevation to the next level and hammers out the message their aspirations are global rather than local.

Guardiola could have taken his pick of United, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain or City, but when it became clear some months ago the former Barcelona manager, who won two Champions Leagues there, was heading to City, the rest retreated and shifted their focus elsewhere.

Yet Guardiola would not have given City a second glance unless he believed the club would enable him to add to his glittering CV.

He may have long-standing relationships with the director of football, Txiki Begiristain, and chief executive, Ferran Soriano, but Guardiola turned them down four years ago when he opted to join Bayern and would have done so again unless he was convinced of the club's ability to take on the world's super-clubs.

City are not in that bracket yet, but that is the next stop on the road map laid out by Mansour and their chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, eight years ago.

United are in their rear-view mirror. The old adage about making history, rather than talking about it, defines City's hold over their neighbours. By securing Guardiola's services, City are able to plan for the next three years and sell the club to prospective new signings on the grounds they will be playing for a superstar manager in a team that will be built for glory.

Chelsea and United must now decide how they will respond.

Belfast Telegraph


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