Manchester City’s latest Premier League title triumph established the champions as a burgeoning dynasty, but Pep Guardiola won’t be satisfied until their domestic bliss becomes the catalyst to conquer Europe.
City’s fourth title in five seasons is arguably the greatest achievement of Guardiola’s glittering career as he found a way to hold off Liverpool’s relentless challenge by one point.
“The magnitude of our achievement is because of the magnitude of this rival,” said Guardiola. “Never ever I had a rival like Liverpool in my career as a football player or manager.”
But even Jurgen Klopp’s men, in the midst of one of the best seasons in their history, were unable to surpass City, leaving them with just one Premier League title in 32 years.
Lauding his players’ remarkable staying power, Guardiola said: “You cannot be here over the last five years if you don’t have that resilience.
“We have the desire to win. To win titles, especially the Premier League, is not just how good we are with the ball.”
Nothing resembled that resilience more than the manner of City’s latest title triumph.
Losing 2-0 to Aston Villa with 15 minutes to go, City rallied in remarkable fashion to score three times in five minutes.
Yet, while Guardiola celebrates the ninth major prize of his six-year City reign, Klopp will be planning to add another chapter to Liverpool’s rich Champions League history.
Liverpool face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 28 and Guardiola would dearly love to swap places with Klopp in Paris.
Since winning the second of his two Champions League crowns with Barcelona on 2011, Guardiola’s relationship with Europe’s elite club competition has been scarred by one agonising failure after another.
This season was no different as City crashed to a devastating semi-final exit against Real Madrid, blowing a 5-3 aggregate lead in the final seconds of normal time before losing in the extra period.
That heartache at the Bernabeu came a year after City’s limp loss to Chelsea in their first ever Champions League final.
Haaland The Perfect Fit?
With that in mind, Guardiola knows City cannot afford to stand still if they are to finally triumph in Europe and keep Liverpool at bay in the Premier League.
A £51.5 million ($63 million) swoop for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland earlier in May was the opening salvo in their bid to achieve those two targets.
Haaland scored a remarkable 86 goals in 89 games for Dortmund and appears an ideal fit for City.
The 21-year-old son of former City defender Alfie Haaland will arrive in time for next season, bringing his elite predatory instincts and physical presence to a City attack lacking both those qualities despite their success.
With the Norway international in the fold and Guardiola also looking to upgrade his options at left-back and in central midfield, it would be a major surprise if City were missing from the title race next term.
The only threat to City’s dynastic ambitions comes in the shape of Guardiola’s future plans.
Guardiola’s current contract expires in June 2023, by which time he will have spent seven years with City, three seasons longer than he managed Barcelona and four more than his spell with Bayern Munich.
The 51-year-old revealed amid the title celebrations he is “exhausted” and will not discuss a further extension to his time in Manchester until next season.
However, it is unlikely he would be able to find a better working environment than the one he enjoys with City.
City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners are never afraid to flex their financial muscle in the transfer market and have surrounded Guardiola with the lieutenants of his choice in director of football Txiki Begiristain and chief executive officer Ferran Soriano.
The quirky Spaniard marches to the beat of his own drum and a game-changing departure cannot be completely ruled out.
But the fierce competitor that lies beneath Guardiola’s urbane demeanour could be the key to his decision.
He sees Liverpool as a worthy opponent and, as a title race for the ages proved, pitting his wits against Klopp is the toughest, and most rewarding, challenge he could face.