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fantasy football Whatever happens next for Man City, Pep Guardiola will always have his perfect night in Paris


Pep Guardiola might have converted the last non-believer to the true faith of his tactical genius.

Pep Guardiola might have converted the last non-believer to the true faith of his tactical genius.

Pep Guardiola might have converted the last non-believer to the true faith of his tactical genius.

Pep Guardiola had the evangelical glow of a missionary who had just converted the last non-believer to the true faith.

In Paris on Wednesday, Guardiola was Orson Welles watching the final, flawless reel of Citizen Kane.

The Catalan burned with the joy of a fanatic whose lifelong pursuit of perfection had found miraculous fulfilment.

If it is too early to say for certain that Manchester City have left behind their wasteland of European underachievement, still Guardiola’s sense of rapture could not be diluted.

On the aesthetic yardstick by which he measures his life’s work, what unspooled in the City of Light was as precious to their manager as the Champions League trophy itself.

For a man addicted to the concept of sporting beauty, his team’s second-half undressing of Neymar, Mbappe and PSG, amounted to a vision of Arcadia.

It was a dreamy balloon ride into the orange glow of a setting Grand Canyon sun.

There it was before him, his vision made real: his creation chirping and trilling with the uncontainable elation of a Sky Blue songbird released from its cage.

An old and haunting question hung over Guardiola’s reputation at half-time.

As Neymar danced and strutted and ripped City to shreds, it asked again whether Pep, without his great swordsman Lionel Messi by his side, was impotent to conquer Europe.

Was the tournament which, for the last decade has mocked his coronation as the coach who towers above even the best of his peers, about to torment Guardiola once more?

The answer came in a thrilling 45-minute brush with transcendence. City clicked together like so many Lego pieces.


Riyad Mahrez arrived as one of those warm Saharan winds that blow in across his native Algeria to seize the title deeds to a European semi-final for the ages.

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His fellow matador, Phil Foden, had only to swivel those Stockport hips to induce an epidemic of Gallic panic.

Kevin de Bruyne unleashed the full range of a generational talent; the Belgian’s precision ordnance could not have been any more menacing if fired from the mouth of a cannon.


Kevin de Bruyne displayed his generational talent.

Kevin de Bruyne displayed his generational talent.

Kevin de Bruyne displayed his generational talent.

Rueben Dias and John Stones neutralised Neymar’s genius and decommissioned Kylian Mbappe’s nuclear menace.

City’s sense of destiny filled the night and carried Guardiola toward wonderland.

Of course, it is only half-time in a semi-final, but the exhilarating fashion in which the English club rose above the emotional turbulence of that first period felt like a watershed moment in their evolution.

And it permitted Guardiola to catch sight of the crowning glory of his distinguished sporting life.

Manchester City will complete the formalities of securing another league title if Liverpool win at Old Trafford today; a fourth consecutive League Cup was seized just last weekend.

But, even if he tried to camouflage his obsession behind a quote that announced the Premier League as the “most important trophy”, it is Europe that consumes Guardiola.

The 50-year-old, intense, brilliant visionary, is, like so many high-achievers, the custodian of an ego without borders.

That he has failed again and again in the Champions League, even while armed with City’s bottomless petrodollar wealth, and, before that, Bayern Munich’s unshakeable sense of Bavarian superiority, will cut him to the marrow.

Roberto Di Matteo, Luis Enrique and Hans Dieter Flick are among the lower caste managers who have reached the European mountain top more recently than the Extra Special One.

Guardiola has twice, like a conquering Caesar, peered down at the football world from that Champions League perch, but not for 10 years, and never without Messi.

In the flush of their Parisian coming of age, the manager will have caught a glimpse of the football world again spinning on an axis forged in his own stubbled likeness.

Even those who can never give their love to a club owned by a nation where human rights are an afterthought can forgive themselves if they were seduced by the sheer radiance of City’s Parisian exhibition.


Showcased in the French capital’s 16th arrondissement was the kind of superior artwork that could hold its own with any of the masterpieces hanging from the gallery walls at the nearby Louvre.

At their best, City combine stimulating creativity with the industry you might expect from a battalion of worker ants.

De Bruyne threads the needle with a pass of rare beauty one moment, leads the lung-sapping high-press the next.

For 45 minutes, the Parc Des Princes was a giant stage revealing the boundless dimensions of the lotus land that is Guardiola’s imagination.

At last, rising above their Champions League uncertainty, no longer the panicked non-swimmer thrown in at the deep end, City – for the first time in the Guardiola era – sailed across the European ocean with the grace of a great galleon.


Kylian Mbappe’s nuclear threat dealt with.

Kylian Mbappe’s nuclear threat dealt with.

Kylian Mbappe’s nuclear threat dealt with.

The tension will return on Tuesday at the Etihad. A vast TV audience will see it emblazoned on every pixel of Guardiola’s features before the second leg.

It would be crushing to the Spaniard should it unravel with the finishing line so close.

Yet he would always have the night when his vision was made real, when Manchester City delivered the masterwork he has spent five years coaxing into being.

It might not mean as much if the Champions League trophy is not delivered as a sparkling encore, but Guardiola will always have Paris and the night City rose above the constraints of gravity.

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