Manchester City host Real Madrid on Friday behind closed doors intending to secure their place in the UEFA Champions League Final Eight showdown.
Pep Guardiola’s men hold a 2-1 lead from the first leg and can play with the freedom of knowing that they will be back in the Champions League next season. Last month the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned a two-year ban imposed on City by UEFA for alleged breaches of financial fairplay.
Being acclaimed club champions of Europe has always been the ultimate temptation for City’s owners.
The Abu Dhabi Group took over in 2008. Since then City have been champions of the English Premier League four times, won the FA Cup twice and the League Cup on five occasions. But out of reach so far has been Champions League with its lustre which excites fans from Manchester to Moscow to Montevideo.
The Manchester City Group project now comprises seven clubs in five continents. But City themselves are the keystone. That was the reason chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak brought in ex-Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain in 2012 as ceo and director of football respectively.
Bringing City within sight of the promised land has not been achieved as quickly as perhaps they hoped. Even Guardiola was surprised by the helter-skelter pace of competitions and matches for which top form was always essential.
The relentless competitive pressure took the edge off City’s performances in the Champions League. In 2017 they fell in the round of 16; in 2018 and 2019 in the quarter-finals.
Now the quarter-finals are again in sight. In normal times City would expect to complete, on Friday against Madrid, the job they began so brilliantly in the Estadio Bernabeu all the way back on February 26. But these are not normal times.
This past season has seen City win ‘only’ the English League Cup and finish 18 points behind Liverpool in the Premier table. Room in the trophy cabinet then, for one more trophy – the one which matters, perhaps, most of all.
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