They may not have won the Champions League but the cold hard facts don’t lie: Manchester City are the best team to ever grace English football. Their unprecedented treble in the men's game included an unprecedented challenge from Liverpool; they saw it off – all the while navigating a path to double domestic cup glory. Furthermore, truth be told, they were, perhaps, only a VAR call away from having a great shot at winning the Champions League. We will, of course, never know how they would have fared against Ajax and Liverpool but stylistically, the Dutch side looked a decent match up for them, and City took four points off Liverpool in the league this season.
Vincent Kompany of Manchester City lifts the trophy following the FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Watford at Wembley Stadium on May 18, 2019 in London, England
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Pep Guardiola has cultivated an ethos of the collective at the club. The fact that Gabriel Jesus seamlessly replaced Sergio Aguero in their line-up for the FA Cup final is testament to that. The fact that City have somehow managed to collect a treble despite missing their best player in Kevin de Bruyne for large swathes of the season is testament to that. And the fact they collected the FA Cup despite missing their most important player in Fernandinho is testament to that.
Astute management is key to their success. And City have that in abundance from the boardroom level - in Tixi Bergstein and Ferran Soriano - all the way down to the coach himself. Guardiola is the central piece to City’s success. He has managed to tie it all together where Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini failed. City play compelling, forward-thinking and, at times, breath-taking football that has brought unprecedented success. The FA Cup final performance was a manifestation of that.
THE GAME WAS MORE OR LESS OVER IN THE 11TH MINUTE
Hyperbole? Perhaps. However, City are so good that open sights of goal are at a premium. Roberto Pereyra was given one with 11 minutes on the clock and unfortunately for those of a Watford persuasion, he passed on it, denied by an excellent save from Ederson. It felt then – and turned out to be – a costly miss. Watford had a game plan, and in that moment executed it expertly, bar the finish from Pereyra.
It takes near perfection to beat City. And in that moment Pereyra fell short. Over the course of the season, Liverpool, despite collecting 97 points – that’s more than Sir Alex Ferguson ever finished a season with – fell short.
Those facts should be of grave concern to the custodians of football. City, through their brilliance and a fair bit of money, are wearing down the competition. They are edging towards sterile domination of a league that prides itself on apparently being the best in the world. Liverpool have been brilliant this season but there is no guarantee – no precedent – that they will be able to sustain their own excellence. And should they not, the league as a competition is dead, in the same way the FA Cup final was done after 11 minutes.
David Silva of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Watford at Wembley Stadium on May 18, 2019 in London, England
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A FRIGHTENING PROSPECT
As stated above, City are utterly brilliant. However, it would be remiss not to remark on the impact of the club’s ownership and the associated money. Money in general is ruining the game. Watford are a very decent side but such is the imbalance in wealth between the haves – Manchester City – and the relative have nots – Watford – that the 11th best team in England were embarrassed to the tune of six goals in English football’s showpiece final. The fault does not really lie with City here; the fault lies with those governing the game. A situation has been allowed to fester whereby, for whatever reason, teams appear willing and able to run at substantial financial deficits in the pursuit of success.
City have the means to do that; other do not. It is a dangerous road to go down, ask Leeds. Teams can either overstretch to compete against clubs such as City or get embarrassed in their first FA Cup final for the 35 years. It is not fair on clubs and it certainly is not fair on the fans of those clubs. It is a frightening prospect for English football and its fans.