For only the second time in his managerial career, and the first in a decade, Pep Guardiola tasted defeat in a cup final as Manchester City were beaten by Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday.
The last time a Guardiola-coached team took the field in a final and didn’t end the night by lifting the trophy, it was the 2011 Copa del Rey final and Real Madrid were the ones bathing in champagne. As painful as it was to lose to Barcelona’s bitter rivals on that day, losing the Champions League final — with Manchester City so close to fulfilling the final step of a decade-long project — will hurt so much more.
Of course, Guardiola wouldn’t let on to that fact, trying his best to instead focus on Manchester City’s double-winning season — capturing the Premier League title and League Cup trophy — as a whole.
“It has been an exceptional season for us. It was a tight game. We had chances. We were brilliant in the second half, we were brave and we could not convert the chances as they were so strong. The players were exceptional. We come back maybe one day again.”
“The ambition now is to rest but then prepare for the next season. It was the first time we were at this stage. Hopefully we will be here again in the future.”
As for the questions regarding his team selection — namely, the decision to start neither Rodri nor Fernandinho in midfield — Guardiola offered only the simplest of explanations.
“I did what I thought was the best decision.”
Fortunately for Manchester City, the cupboard is hardly bare and they’re almost certain to be involved at the business end of the Champions League again in the coming seasons. Having had the experience of playing in the biggest game in club football will serve as a key learning experience for a number of ket figures in the Manchester City team, and they’ll be less likely to no-show the Champions League final next time around.