June 22, 2024

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — If there was any doubt before, there isn’t now — Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have earned their place among the greatest club sides in history.

Winning the Club World Cup on Friday was more a box-ticking exercise than a genuine test of their ability, but the champions of England and Europe are now, officially, champions of the world. They did it with a largely comfortable 4-0 win over Fluminense, who were a goal down inside the first minute and never looked poised to come back.

Guardiola spoke before the game about “closing the circle” and winning the only piece of available silverware not already on his résumé with Manchester City. They did that, and it was done with the calm dominance that has been a hallmark of the other 13 major trophies Guardiola has won since arriving at City in 2016. Fluminense, the best team in South America, managed just two shots on target as City became the first English side to win five trophies in a calendar year.

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“It’s a beautiful, beautiful day,” Guardiola said. “I’m very pleased and I would like to say we had the feeling we would close the chapter, we won all the titles, there’s nothing else to win. I have a feeling the job is done, it is over.

“When I close the chapter, it’s for eight years of incredible work behind the scenes. I have a feeling we have done it. Now we buy another book and start to write it again. The last eight years, it’s over.”

Arguments about the relative merits of football teams are destined never to be settled, but Guardiola’s City deserve to be part of the conversation.

There’s Arrigo Sacchi’s great Milan side and the Liverpool team of the 1970s and 1980s, which won the European Cup four times. There’s also Real Madrid‘s back-to-back-to-back Champions League winners and Sir Alex Ferguson’s masterful Manchester United teams of the 1990s and 2000s.

Guardiola has another contender with his Barcelona team featuring prime Lionel Messi — but City’s achievements under the Catalan coach stack up against them all.

This is supposedly English football’s era of strength with a multibillion-pound broadcast deal fuelling title ambitions of six or seven clubs every year, but Man City have continued to thwart their best competitors in the Premier League. In Guardiola’s seven-and-a-half years, they’ve won the Premier League five times, as well as two FA Cups, four League Cups, the Champions League, the Super Cup and now the Club World Cup. City also won a domestic treble in 2019 and replicated United’s 1999 treble of the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League last season.

Having won the title in each of the last three years, Man City could win a record fourth in a row this season and, although it hasn’t been the smoothest of starts to their campaign, you would never bet against them.

“In Barcelona, 25 years later people talk about great teams, 25 years later,” Guardiola said. “That means they’re really good. I don’t know what’s going to happen at City in the next 15, 20, 25 years — maybe we will be considered one of the best teams in history.

“The consistency year by year, game by game, title by title, semifinals, finals, always there fighting for all the titles, it’s unbelievable.”

There are, of course, questions to answer. Not least among them are the 115 charges levelled at City by the Premier League, with allegations that the club breached financial fair play rules between 2009 and 2018. But, based purely on what has happened on the pitch, Guardiola’s City have been remarkable.

Fluminense, fortunate to get past Al Ahly in their semifinal, were never likely to put up much of a fight, and any hope of causing a shock was over when Julián Álvarez scored the fastest goal in Club World Cup final history after 40 seconds.

Guardiola tried to talk up the Brazilian side’s qualities before kickoff — maybe an attempt to keep his players focused as much as anything else — but there’s a clear gap between the biggest European clubs and the rest of the world, which has meant the reigning Champions League winner has lifted this trophy in 15 of the last 16 years.

An own goal from Nino after 27 minutes made it 2-0 to end the game as a contest. From there the only question was how many would City score. Phil Foden got a third and Alvarez a fourth late on, but the fireworks from David Guetta’s elaborate pre-match show with Bebe Rexha were never needed as City won a fifth trophy in 2023.

The one downside was an injury to Rodri in the second half after a reckless challenge from Alexsander. It was a good sign that, after hobbling off, Rodri was still able to dance around during the presentation — City will need him if there is going to be more success this season.

Guardiola has 18 months left on his contract and still there’s time to add more medals before he walks away. The hard work, though, has already been done: City’s place among the best ever is secured.

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