Pep Guardiola will stand on the touchline at the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday evening for the first time in 10 years. Finally, the trophy he has been under pressure to regain for the last decade is within touching distance, and keeping the emotion of the occasion in check could be his toughest challenge yet.
Having failed to deliver the coveted prize during his three seasons of domestic success and European frustration with Bayern Munich, it is with Manchester City that Pep Guardiola can exorcize the ghosts of his Barcelona past.
Lifting the trophy twice as a manager during his time at the Camp Nou, his achievements in Catalonia have weighed heavy on his shoulders ever since.
Pep Guardiola: an appointment with one ambition
Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City as the final piece of the puzzle in the summer of 2016, and while his domestic trophies have now reached double figures, he is yet to present the club’s owners with the one prize that has always been central to their ambition. Only Premier League rivals Chelsea can stop them now.
There is an irony in the connection between the two managers, with Pep Guardiola offering his opposite number Thomas Tuchel his time during the German’s formative coaching years to discuss tactics and systems for hours over dinner and wine.
Just like the Catalan sponged knowledge from his own mentors at the beginning of his own journey, now the student has the chance to beat the master.
The Champions League hurt experienced by Thomas Tuchel is fresher than that of any of his rivals. Last summer, his Paris Saint-Germain side were defeated by Bayern Munich in the biggest club cup final in the world.
It marked the end of the German’s time on that particular project, but Chelsea have benefited from his pain this season and his hunger not to suffer a repeat scenario this weekend burns deep within him.
Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona produced beautiful football in his image. Their performance against Manchester United at Wembley in the 2011 Champions League final remains one of the greatest displays by any team ever a decade later. Sir Alex Ferguson and his star-studded side simply could not compete with the individual and collective brilliance of their opponents.
But the pressure to maintain that standard became impossible for Guardiola, and his football sabbatical offered him the chance to reflect and recharge at a crucial stage of his coaching career.
Spells in Germany and England have brought domestic dominance, but without holding the Champions League trophy in his hands for a decade, these are mere trinkets in comparison.
The Champions League defines careers for players and managers at the very highest level, and separates them from their peers.
Guardiola won the trophy with Barcelona as a player when the club became champions of Europe for the first time in 1992, but suffered embarrassment two years later as Fabio Capello’s AC Milan took Barcelona apart with a 4-0 victory in the final in Athens.
The pain and glory of the Champions League
Both Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel understand the pain of losing a Champions League final, but only the Catalan coach has the experience of what it means to be crowned European champion.
But success brings expectancy, and the technical and tactical nuances that characterize the two managers could be the deciding factor on what promises to be an intriguing battle between talented players and minds.
Emotions poured from Pep Guardiola as he paid tribute to departing Manchester City hero Sergio Aguero last week on the day that the club were presented with the Premier League trophy.
It was not a sign of weakness, but recognition of the contribution of a club legend, despite the soured nature of his exit. It was an unusual public display of emotion from the manager, and a sign of the pressure he puts upon himself.
During his time as manager of Barcelona, Pep Guardiola was able to realize his tactical vision mainly through the genius of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the incomparable Lionel Messi.
He announced his departure in 2012 while the trio remained in their prime, and following his recent personal reaction, we may have learned more about Pep Guardiola if one of the aforementioned trio had left before him.
Rumors of a Barcelona return for Pep Guardiola are regularly reported in the modern game’s media circus, and it is impossible to rule out a reunion with his first and one true love. However, his success at the Camp Nou will remain a poisoned chalice until he repeats Champions League glory elsewhere.
On Saturday night, Pep Guardiola has a date with destiny and the opportunity to eradicate the demons that have haunted him since his finest hour.
For all the domestic success, this is a defining match in his managerial career, and failure will only lead to more debate and questions over his inability to repeat his greatest moment after so many years of trying.