Manchester, May 5
By the time Riyad Mahrez completed the counterattack that sealed Manchester City’s spot in their first-ever Champions League final, they looked effortless in overcoming a Paris Saint-Germain lineup that lost its cool and composure. “Then they lost their nerve and started to kick us and it was good,” Mahrez said. It was the Paris-born winger who netted twice before PSG had Angel Di Maria sent off. City won 2-0 to eliminate last season’s finalists 4-1 on aggregate. “They had the red card,” Mahrez said, “and after, it was more comfortable for us.”
It’s been anything but comfortable for City getting a shot at lifting European football’s top prize for the first time despite 13 years of lavish investment. Even reaching the semifinals this time required a fight in court to overturn a ban from this season’s Champions League for breaching UEFA’s financial rules. And it’s only two weeks since the Abu Dhabi-owned team exposed itself to fresh sanctions for joining a brief, ill-fated bid to split to help form a breakaway European Super League.
Now City could win the competition they tried to leave in what could be an all-English final on May 29 in Istanbul if Chelsea overcome Real Madrid. Chelsea and Madrid played to a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
Money put in
“Of course, we’ve invested money in the last decade since Sheikh Mansour took over the club, but it’s not just about this,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “If you want to think it’s just about money, it’s OK. But there is a lot of incredible things behind the scenes.”
It’s not just City that’s endured frustration in their quest to win the biggest prize in European football. Guardiola, a Champions League winner as Barcelona coach in 2009 and 2011, has been waiting a decade to return to the final. He fell short three times with Bayern Munich and has taken until his fifth season at City to even reach the semifinals.
“To reach the Champions league final is so difficult,” Guardiola said. “It’s the toughest one, but we did it.”
City are now accustomed to success — sitting on the brink of their third Premier League title in four seasons after already collecting the League Cup last month. But their only continental title came with the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970. “This club needed the final, these players needed the final,” City defender Kyle Walker said. “For these players to not be in a Champions League final is a disappointment every year.”
PSG missed out on a second shot at lifting a first European Cup after losing last season’s final to Bayern Munich. — AP/PTI