Manchester City ended a sensational season by beating Inter Milan 1-0 to win the Champions League for the first time and complete the treble against the three-time winners from Italy at the Ataturk Stadium.
For sporting greatness to be achieved, there needs to be a defining moment. The Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul on Saturday, June 10, 2023, was Manchester City’s, the scene where an obsession finally became reality and history was made.
Ever since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Abu Dhabi United Group took ownership of the club in 2008, winning Europe’s premier cup competition had been the ultimate aim.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in the last 15 years, and controversy has surrounded the club, but now the Champions League is, finally, theirs after a 1-0 win over Inter Milan which will live long in the memory for the significance of the result, rather than the match itself.
This was not only a night when City won its first Champions League. In beating three-time champion Inter, Pep Guardiola’s side became only the second English team to achieve the treble, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season.
The first to do so was Manchester United in the 1998/99 season, and while comparing teams from different eras is futile, this City side is certainly as dominant domestically as that United team of Alex Ferguson, winning five league titles in six seasons.
The challenge now is to accumulate titles as ruthlessly in Europe. After all, it is the competition’s serial winners who are remembered and feted the most.
It was a match of few chances but plenty of intrigue.
Bernardo Silva went close in the first five minutes for City, while Erling Haaland had his best chance of the match in the 26th minute, forcing a low save from Inter goalkeeper André Onana.
The Norwegian’s effort came minutes after Nicolò Barella spotted City goalkeeper Ederson off his line and took aim at goal only to skew his first-time strike dreadfully wide.
That was as good as it got in the first half as Inter’s high-energy, aggressive pressing left City with plenty of possession but little to show for it.
The second half was just as fraught, Inter continuing to defend brilliantly, City continuing to probe for openings. Yet, once Rodri put City ahead in the 68th minute, his curling first-time shot from a Bernardo Silva cut-back beating several Inter defenders, Inter could have at least have scored twice.
Federico Dimarco’s header struck the crossbar, while his follow-up effort from six-yards out hit teammate Romelu Lukaku. In the closing minutes, Ederson stopped a Lukaku header from point-blank range for a save that secured the trophy for City.
It was in September 2008 that Sheikh Mansour – who attended only his second City game on Saturday – wrote an open letter to City fans, telling them that the owners were ambitious yet “not unreasonably so,” understanding that it took time to construct a team, a club that could challenge for league titles and European trophies.
Within four years the Premier League was conquered, a first title won, snatched from Manchester United in the final seconds of the final day of the season, starting an era of dominance which continues to this day.
Yet, success in Europe has taken longer than many would have expected. For all the money spent, City continued to fail in the knockout stages of the Champions League: beaten by Monaco in 2017, Liverpool in 2018, Tottenham in 2019, Lyon in 2020, Chelsea in 2021 and Real Madrid in 2022. “This competition is so difficult to win,” Guardiola told BT Sport after the match.
It was the arrival of Guardiola in 2016 that was meant to change City’s fortunes in the Champions League, yet it was the acquisition of Haaland last summer which made City formidable in Europe. The striker himself this week admitted he was bought to help win this competition. He “feels the pressure,” he said. Not that it has showed on the pitch during a season in which he has scored an extraordinary 52 goals, though he did fail to find the net in Istanbul with Inter’s defence keeping him on the periphery.
It is the Norwegian’s goals which have been key to turning what Guardiola described in the build-up to the game as a “dream” and an “obsession” into reality. Yet, the man behind the success is Guardiola himself.
It is hard to believe that this was a club playing in the third tier of English football in 1999, struggling to win games let alone trophies. A 2003 stadium move, to what is now known as the Etihad, followed by investment by the club’s Abu Dhabi owners, the likes of which soccer had not seen before, paved the way to this memorable night in Istanbul, CNN said.
Will City dominate the Champions League like it has the Premier League? The first could lead to many under the leadership of Guardiola, a manager who has been described by many as the greatest in the history of the game, a man many of his players have called a genius, and now the first manager to win the treble twice, having initially achieved the feat with Barcelona.
Dark clouds could be on the horizon, however, with the Premier League in February accusing City of more than 100 breaches of the league’s finance rules and referring the club to an independent commission. City has denied any wrongdoing, saying it was “surprised by the issuing of these alleged breaches.”
According to the league’s handbook, it could lead to a suspension from the league, points deduction or an unlimited fine if found guilty.
Whatever the commission’s findings, which could take years, and whether success comes with a caveat or not, there is no doubt that the team Guardiola has constructed is one of the finest in history.
On Saturday, thoughts were merely on celebrating this season’s achievement. A tearful Jack Grealish, the most expensive British player in history, struggled to find the words during his live televised on-pitch interview.
“This is what you work your whole life for. I’m so happy right now,” he told BT Sport. “I played so awful today but I don’t care. To win the treble with this group of players is so special…
“This is what I’ve worked for my whole life. To all the people that have helped you along the way, seeing my family in the crowd, it just makes me emotional.”