Home Features MacKenna On Monday: Guardiola’s European Failures Will Define Legacy

MacKenna On Monday: Guardiola’s European Failures Will Define Legacy

There are many reasons out there for a person to be turned right off of Manchester City. And they stretch across the spectrum to and away from all sorts of importance levels.

At the top is obviously not so much the money that lifts them, rather where it comes from and how it’s earned, with their backers’ wallets filled via everything from torture to the creation of famine conditions for kids.

Such links to this barbarity and actual war crimes end up in their very boardroom, with this an aspect that this column has previously delved into.

For those looking to add to the dislike more cheaply, at the other end of the scale and not helped along by themselves, are petty incidents like the fact that against Tottenham Hotspur they had speakers piping in fake fan noise.

Bad at any time, it is worth remembering in this instance the club has become so vacuous and soulless that they did it for their biggest game of the season, in a European quarter-final that was on the brink throughout and would be and is defining.

Meanwhile somewhere in the middle of all this lies the Pep Guardiola love-in.

However, don’t confuse this with the usual pro-the-idea-as-you-support-a-rival or anti-the-idea-because-you’re-the-opposite. In terms of sport, it’s a deeper dilemma and it’s a question that has grown from a quiet whisper to a more forceful grumble as time has ticked by.

Consider this. Has there been another manager to have achieved so little and gain so much respect? That idea, of course, is based on quality rather than just quantity of trophies. So stay with us…

It may seem strange that a coach on the verge of another domestic league – one that will likely involve holding off one of the great challenges because his side simply won’t drop points – would be subject to such negative scrutiny.

But context is king and so often that is lost in the analysis of the Spaniard. That he wins sees a skipping over of just how and what he wins.

Look at it this way. A buddy a few years back got big into Championship Manager and was the sort of player of the computer game that would take over a small club and try and turn them around.

In the end, after ridiculous lost hours, he had Huddersfield Town battering opponents at home and abroad and on top of the continent.

Admirable, kind of, but there is always the other type of player most are more familiar with, whose achievements never seemed as great as they built little and inherited much. Ultimately they place themselves in the virtual dugout of a place where the money and players were before they started. In the end, they did exactly what they should.

Back in the real world, Guardiola is, of course, the latter type of boss.

Sure enough, capturing leagues is the baseline for quality because of the nature of that competition, meaning freaks and mistakes iron themselves out over the course of a campaign.

Yet no one is saying Manchester City or Guardiola’s previous sides were not quality. We are asking if their achievement was quality which is very different.

For example, even taking a league win being more into account, is Guardiola doing anything other than what he ought to be? And if that’s the case, when was a person merely living up to expectations something to behold in any walk of life, never mind celebrated as he regularly is?

It’s so bad that it’s reached the stage where, so lavish and outrageous is the entire modern Manchester City concept, that not a single point dropped in the Premier League in approaching two months doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary.

Liverpool sticking with them down the stretch is a far more impressive achievement regardless of any outcome.

It means that while being over superclubs may result in Guardiola never veering anyway far above the level that should be seen as the norm, that’s what is shackled to all the other advantages in an era of playing fields tilted like never before.

When constantly in charge of a club with the most resources to the point of dwarfing rivals, victory isn’t all that amazing as it’s somewhat of a formality.

Indeed that leads us to the other key wonder around Guardiola, for the one time a club in his domestic league perhaps had more than him around finances was back at Barcelona. And there he just happened to have the greatest player arguably of all-time.

So how much were Guardiola’s successes on the biggest stage down to Lionel Messi? It’s a question not asked often enough in the rush around adoration.

In that regard how fondly is Ottavio Bianchi’s time at Napoli recalled versus the Diego Maradona factor? How often do Lula and Antoninho come up in conversation around Pele’s era at Santos?

For Guardiola, his efforts since leaving Messi behind are starting to point to a very striking answer. If you look at his Champions League record since, there’s a tell-tale sign there for, call it what you like, and explain it away as you like, but he’s been a huge failure.

The true greats are measured by the greatest prize and that just happens to be the arena where Guardiola’s sides haven’t had quite the same massive advantages and look at what he’s done there.

Before losing to Spurs this time around, there was a 5-0 humiliation by Real Madrid and then another five shipped against Barcelona when at Bayern Munich before Atletico Madrid made sure there wasn’t so much as a final appearance when that was the real reason he was brought to Germany.

As for City, it’s been almost embarrassing with this latest effort coming after a loss to Monaco and a battering by Liverpool.

Even his time at Barcelona come the European Cup is questionable as, while on the surface two titles in four years seems something special, it still doesn’t feel right.

In Guardiola’s defence, part of that feeling over his Nou Camp effort was down to him. For instance, the creation of tiki-taka and how he set up that team and had them playing at times had you thinking they just couldn’t be beaten.

Only then they were, and while setting such a standard is admirable, not living up to it thereafter leaves a bitter taste. That’s on him for it feels similar to how a great car engineer doesn’t make you a hero as a Formula One driver.

The usual rationale of those who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid around him is that of the lottery of a cup competition, yet there are two key points around this too.

It’s not strictly a one-off knockout for 180 minutes of home and away football should always see the better team make amends for anything that goes wrong, but that has not been the case with him.

Secondly, at what point does such a lottery become a trend, as how many games and how many disappointments add up to something far more substantial than it not falling his way?

This is a weakness to the point it should begin to take over any and all legacy conversations.

Not so though and he’s still lauded and loved when year by year it’s making far less sense. Only there’s a gaping gap between very good and being a true great and history judges such harshly.

The latter sort have never had excuses made for them. But more and more he’s in need of them.

About Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.