The crowning of Manchester City as European champions and treble winners may cause Pep Guardiola to ask himself, again, a familiar question: how much longer can he manage his gilded side?
One answer is found in the irresistible quality of the 2022‑23 Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup victors. The team that Guardiola built is so dominant and, seemingly, so unstoppable that it is a natural fount of the energy and drive required to rejuvenate the Catalan for the foreseeable future.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, after receiving rippling applause in the Ataturk Stadium’s media room following the 1-0 defeat of Internazionale, Guardiola was an intriguing blend of exhaustion and defiance. “Don’t ask me about next season,” the 52-year-old said before, later, insisting that “knowing me” there will be no falling away when the defence of their titles begins in August.
By then the Community Shield may have been added, the European Super Cup final versus Sevilla in Athens will be four days away, and Guardiola’s eye will be on the Club World Cup in December as this trophy-addict tilts at a clean sweep of honours.
Yet when Guardiola’s tenure might reach its endgame is a poser he has tossed about more than once during his seven-year reign. At the start of the season just ended, 12 months remained on his contract, and there was surprise from confidantes when he signed a fresh two-year deal during the World Cup. When he took over back in the summer of 2016 there had been the sense of a perfectionist coach who would remain in charge for a finite time – then a three-year contract.
This, remember, was the man who had just completed a three-year span in charge of Bayern Munich, preceded by a 12-month sabbatical, and whose four seasons at Barcelona (2008-12) ended in resignation with Guardiola citing how a stint at that “kind of club” felt an “eternity”. Under him, City are now that kind of club, too. One in the elite rank that is favourite for every competition they enter, which brings a particular pressure.
From a certain angle, the triumph on Saturday can be viewed as the natural finishing line to all Guardiola has worked towards since striding on to the Etihad campus; and, too, what he was hired to do. For years there were denials that the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, his sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, and chief executive, Ferran Soriano, had ever ordered Guardiola to bring the European Cup to east Manchester.
In recent weeks the stance altered: he began speaking of City being a “big club” only once they claimed the continent’s premier trophy. In part that may have been the ever-shrewd coach calculating that his players needed to hear this as motivation because, after losing the 2021 Champions League final against Chelsea in Porto, he would forget playing down the tournament’s import, and instead talk up the absolute need to be the Europe’s No 1 club.
It worked: City’s first European Cup and Guardiola’s third as a manager ensured the treble as the team from the town’s blue zone joined the one from the red – Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1999 Manchester United vintage – as immortals, and sealed his status as an all-time great (if not already secured).
What else, then, is there to achieve at City? Again, the word is eyebrows will be raised if Guardiola stays on beyond the next two seasons, as he will then have managed the side for nine years. Departing in summer 2025 would also make impossible any tilt at a challenge that might keep Guardiola’s uber-competitive juices flowing: overtaking Ferguson’s remarkable record at United of 13 Premier Leagues, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two European Cups, one European Cup-Winners’ Cup, one European Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and one Fifa Club World Cup.
Guardiola’s City honours roll stands at five Premier Leagues, one European Cup, two FA Cups and four League Cups. Win the European Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup and Ferguson’s tally in these is equalled, which Guardiola has already done in the League Cup. He now has half as many European Cups with City as Ferguson, is three behind in FA Cups, and eight in the Premier League. Yet by one metric Guardiola is ahead of what Ferguson achieved in more than 26 years at United: that of trophies per‑season.
Disregarding Charity/Community shields, Ferguson’s count ended on 28, making his ratio 1.05 a season, while Guardiola’s 12 have come at 1.74, so if he continues the Scot’s haul would be eclipsed in around a decade.
Might this tempt Guardiola? Ten years is an age in elite management yet Guardiola will be only 62 in 2033, 12 months younger than Carlo Ancelotti is now, and as the XI that sealed Champions League glory hardly teems with gnarled veterans he may have to construct only one more great team to outstrip Ferguson.
Of those who lined at up in Istanbul, Ilkay Gündogan may be 32 and Kevin De Bruyne 31, but Ederson is 29, Ruben Dias and John Stones 26 and 29, Nathan Aké and Bernardo Silva 28, Rodri 26, Jack Grealish and Manuel Akanji 27, and Erling Haaland 22.
Guardiola has proved his regenerative powers by evolving the rampant Sergio Agüero-David Silva 100-point/domestic treble vintage into domestic and European kings so replacing Gündogan, De Bruyne, and whoever else may depart in the coming years appears no problem.
And there is another reason why he may be drawn, yet again, to extend his tenure. At 52 and in his prime, where else would he go? Coaching in Italy remains a target but could he really enjoy what he does now at a Serie A side, or elsewhere?
Because as much as the all‑conquering City is the team that Pep built, in this golden second phase of Sheikh Mansour’s ownership, in which Soriano and Begiristain were headhunted to give him the best possible chance of success, this is the club configured for the man from Santpedor.