Manchester City spent years preparing for the arrival of Pep Guardiola. Sheikh Mansour's money sent the club towards the top of England, but the Citizens wanted to be the best in the world and they wanted to be able to sustain it. They spent on players and infrastructure, grew the fan base and its profile, setting the stage for Guardiola, who would make them as good as anyone in the world.
Now they have Guardiola. The Spaniard has joined on after the Citizens' years-long pursuit, having previously been at world superpowers Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and is now intent on making City as big as his old clubs.
To call those high expectations would be an understatement. But as he enters his first season, it's not exactly clear what to expect from Guardiola and Manchester City this season.
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The Premier League isn't especially strong, as we saw last season. It wouldn't be a stretch to expect a title from the Citizens, and most people have picked them as the favorites to be kings of England. But they've been Premier League champions before. Guardiola is supposed to take them farther than that.
The question is whether he can do that this season. Considering City made the semifinals of the Champions League a year ago, it seems easy to say that Guardiola can. They were in the final four last year, have a better manager and better talent now. Making the final two or even becoming European champions is in reach, you'd think.
Realistically, it will be tough for Manchester City to reign supreme in Europe this season. They've added Leroy Sane, Nolito and John Stones, but they still have massive problems in defense. Their hopes may rely on Vincent Kompany's health, which is a terrible bet, and the midfield needs a lot of work. This for a team that is experiencing a major systematic and philosophical shift under Guardiola, one that will almost definitely take some time to set in. And City's players aren't especially well-suited to his system either, making the adjustment that much harder. That doesn't sound like a European champion or even European finalist.
Manchester City are a good team, but they're not a great team. Not yet.
Few would argue that Guardiola's Bayern Munich teams weren't better than Manchester City looks set to be this season and the Spaniard never took Bayern past the Champions League semifinals. It highlighted just how difficult it is to win a European championship. Whether the draw worked against them, the referees, the turf, luck or the team they came up against were just playing superbly, Guardiola's Bayern teams just couldn't break through because sometimes, being the best team doesn't matter. And nobody expects Manchester City to be the best team to begin with.
The worst thing that could happen to Guardiola is unrealistic expectations. After all, he's coming from three years at Bayern, where he won the Bundesliga three times and he DFB-Pokal twice, but his tenure was considered by many to be a failure because of the ridiculous expectations thrown upon him.
Manchester City need to start at the beginning — in the league. Win the Premier League this season, let Guardiola's system take hold and then go into next summer in search of the couple buys needed to push them toward's Europe's elite. Maybe the draw will be kind to them and they can make a Champions League run this year, but it shouldn't be the expectation.
Guardiola was hired not for this season, but for the future. He was supposed to take City to upper echelon of the sport and instill the philosophy, system and foundation for them to maintain their position long after he's gone. That's why the Citizens spent years setting the stage for his hiring. And it will take years for Guardiola to make good on everything he has been hired to do.
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Manchester City have plenty of attacking talent. (Photo by Christopher Lee – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
Guardiola couldn’t get to a Champions League final at Bayern Munich. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)