The sky-blue wash of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City will define this era | Manchester City

lIt seemed fitting that Manchester City should come storming off the brink as they did, Ilkay Gundogan hovering like a small, technically adept avenging phoenix to carefully fire his header into the top corner of Aston Villa’s net. This is how they do things like this here. Not with more heat, more blood, more chaos; but with tighter lines, more clarity, a red mist of extreme precision.

Within six minutes of that opening act, Pep Guardiola’s champions had completed the most beautifully orchestrated comeback in English football history. And there really is something fearless about being able to play football like this, about becoming more and not less yourself when the heart is racing, time is running out and the world is chasing you.

It was also fitting that Gundogan, Guardiola’s first signing at City, would score the title-winning goal, his second goal of the game: and that Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne would be on hand to pull the strings, who were both on hand for Guardiola’s side. whole team in England.

At the end of that, and for all the fine margins, this is the most definitive title win. City have scored more goals, made more passes and had more possession than any other team in Europe’s top five this season.

João Cancelo, Rodri and Aymeric Laporte made more passes than anyone else in England’s top league (Cancelo, an all-purpose influence, was also top 10 for tackles, dribbles and interceptions and 12th for shots on goal).

It has been a kind of total football, the domination of every measure, a sky-blue wash applied over every surface of elite English football. Finally, this is also a good time to catch your breath. There is no suggestion that Guardiola plans to leave when his contract expires next year, but some things will change now. Key figures in this group reach their peak. Some will leave in the summer. The arrival of Erling Haaland suggests a different kind of remodeling ahead.

Kyle Walker, Ruben Días and John Stones celebrate with the Premier League trophy – the club’s fourth title in five seasons. Photo: Matt McNulty/Manchester City/Getty Images

And when I look back, Guardiola’s first six years at City have their own, very clear tone and texture. Zoom out a bit to take in the tactics, structure and ownership model, right down to how full-blown internet tribalism has become an aspect of football fandom, and it’s likely that Pep-era Manchester City is the most transformative element in the modern history of English football.

Two things seem clear enough. First, this is a staggering success. Four titles in six years: Even abolishing the Premier League premium that says what just happened is all that ever happened, this is one of the great title-winning eras in English football history.

On the clean-line, Guardiola is now level with Kenny Dalglish and Herbert Chapman, one behind Matt Busby, two behind Bob Paisley, and, like everyone else, way back on Alex Ferguson’s 27-year tally of 13.

Considering the brevity of his wingspan and the sheer intensity of his influence, Guardiola is beginning to look like something even more substantial. He is now part of a small group – Chapman, Busby, Bill Shankly and Arsene Wenger come to mind – whose success has also changed the way football is played, coached and understood in this country.

That tactical influence is the most obvious part of Pep’s supremacy. In its day, English football has tilted dramatically towards possession, the primacy of technique, the Catalan-Dutch obsession with the ball best epitomized by Guardiola’s own evolving team.

In simplest terms, City scored 71 goals and passed the ball 20,488 times the season before arriving. In the title-winning season that has just ended, they scored 99 goals and made 26,132 passes.

It is easy to take the influence of that time for granted. Inverted wingers, false nines, fullbacks wandering, goalkeepers who love the ball: Pep has been the main driver for these elements to become part of the internal language of English football, to the extent that even entry-level English managers will talk about their “philosophy” (love of knowledge) and accept the idea of ​​coaching as a field of study, an intellectual discipline.

Manchester City's players enjoy their open-top bus parade through the city centre.
Manchester City’s players enjoy their open-top bus parade through the city centre. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Scroll back and it seems comical that in 2016 there was still a small island of animosity against this unproven (two Champions League) outsider. The press conference at King Power Stadium after a 4-2 defeat to Leicester City in December 2016, when Guardiola asked “what is tackles?” has since become a silent legend; a football version of the Sex Pistols playing the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976, a sort of pistol shot to wake up the world.

There was a certain amount of ridicule at the time. Fast forward five and a half years and it is remarkable to see the influence that constant exposure to the Guardiola style has had. From a national team defined by direct play and physicality throughout its 140-year history, but now reconfigured to fetishize possession and patience; to the rhythm of park football, where the local players under 11 play an orderly passing game, where parents shout to press and not send too long, where short passes are cheered performatively.

Much of this was already on the train before Guardiola, but his presence has strengthened it. He was right too. City made 300 fewer tackles this season than the year before, when they finished fourth behind Arsenal and Spurs.

There are, of course, other sides to this transformation. The state property of the city is now 14 years old. No one was prepared for the changes brought about by this very different model, these very different motivations. In many ways, it’s just the real world invading. English culture, commerce, economics, even the language has always been a magpie thing, a business of export/import, borrowed talent, borrowed influences.

Globalization has accelerated this enormously. Qatar has the tallest building in England. Abu Dhabi owns Manchester City. The project is a modern economic marvel in its own way: new spaces, new ground, new team, new style, new gravity.

But it also deserves to be judged as little more than a collection of buildings and a payroll. The sports infrastructure is vulnerable. And while numerous other teams have attempted their way to success during the same period, City’s superpower has been to realize top-level sport with the coherence of an overt political project, underpinned by bottomless reserves, extreme executive competence and a willingness to litigate.

In many ways their success can seem mundane from the outside: hire the best talent, spend the most money, remove the standard despair of quarreling egos, lust for glory, nepotism, incompetence.

It’s part of Guardiola’s brilliance, his sharpness and his sometimes self-destructive obsession that this project under his hand has remained both beautiful and something that still feels like sport.

City are exceptional title winners for so many reasons. The most obvious as they finished by one point more than a brilliant Liverpool team. But this has also been their era, in the most far-reaching sense.

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