This article was first published in Champions Journal. Read the original article here.
*This is an excerpt from Guardiola’s interview in the new Champions Journal issue 16. Get your copy here to read the full story.
A week before his Manchester City side beat Inter in Istanbul, I sat down with Pep Guardiola and asked him whether, in the darkest moments of a three- decade relationship packed with trials and tribulations, he’d ever grown to hate the Champion League? He certainly had his reasons. Let’s trace the scars.
We start in 1992. Just months after winning the European Cup as a 21-year-old pivote in Barcelona’s Dream Team came the disappointment of an embarrassing exit for the defending champions, humbled 3-2 at the Camp Nou by CSKA Moskva. The following season, they went all the way to the final, where they met an AC Milan side supposedly crippled by injuries and suspensions. Barcelona were humiliated 4-0 in Athens and Johan Cruyff duly dismantled that squad only to be sacked two years later.
Guardiola did not get a sniff of another final until 2009, when his debut season as coach was topped off by Barça’s showpiece victory against Manchester United in Rome. It brought only temporary respite. The following campaign terminated in the last four after a gruelling bus journey to play Inter in Milan during the airspace shutdown caused by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.
Victory in 2011, yes. But then the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune picked up pace. First came four successive semi-final exits. In 2012, holders Barça threw it away at home against ten-man Chelsea, with Lionel Messi missing a penalty.
It was more of the same at Bayern, beginning when Guardiola committed “the worst f***-up of my career” by listening to his players’ tactical preferences only to lose 4-0 to Real Madrid in Bavaria for a 5-0 aggregate defeat. The next season, they were torn apart by his former club, with Messi to the fore in a 3-0 loss at the Camp Nou – it had been goalless at the 75-minute mark. And, in 2016, Bayern completed an unwanted hat-trick against Spain’s big three, beaten on away goals by Atlético de Madrid after Thomas Müller failed to convert a spot kick.
Next the sky-blue thorns in Guardiola’s side. There were defeats by Monaco and Liverpool in ties that produced 18 goals in 2017 and 2018 respectively – before City learned to defend as stingily as they do now. Next up was Sergio Agüero’s missed penalty against Tottenham Hotspur and Fernando Llorente’s fortuitous second- leg goal in 2019.
There was the miserable 1-0 loss to Chelsea in the 2021 final, an emotional strain to rival the physical pain Kevin De Bruyne endured before his early withdrawal. Then the coup de grâce: 5-3 up against Madrid in the 2021/22 semis after 179 minutes of the tie – but still knocked out. Feel some sympathy? I certainly reckoned that salt interminably being rubbed into wound after Champions League wound between 1993 and 2022 at least merited further questioning. So, did hearing the famous pre-match anthem ever make him shudder with dread rather than shiver with anticipation?
Even a week before Rodri healed those wounds with his winning goal in Istanbul, even before Guardiola moved behind only Carlo Ancelotti in the list of coaches with the most Champions League trophies, Pep firmly disabused me of that notion.
“No, no! I look at it from a different angle,” he said. “The Champions League has given me so much more than I could have ever imagined. If my life were to end now, I’d have won one as a player for ‘my’ club [Barcelona], which I love so much, as well as winning two as manager of that club. In 14 years of coaching, I’ve reached ten Champions League semi- finals and four finals. Football both gives and takes away from you.