Man City could become greatest Premier League side – but 115 charges are inescapable

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gives a team talk on the touchline during the Premier League match at Fulham
Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side have changed the footballing landscape - Getty Images/Jacques Feeney

A Manchester City win on Sunday will erase any doubts about their and Pep Guardiola’s places in English football history.

City are the best Premier League side this country has ever seen. Guardiola is the greatest manager of the modern era.

The statistics do not lie if, as we expect, City make it four league titles in a row. The best Manchester United teams could not manage that, despite winning three in a row and dominating our league.

City have gone beyond by changing the landscape of what is required to become champions.

If they beat West Ham, their six titles under Guardiola will have accumulated an amazing 175 wins from 228 Premier League games. Their points haul over those victory campaigns will average just under 93 points per season.

United’s hat-trick was won with an impressive average of 88 points. Go back four decades, and Liverpool won three in a row with an average of 83, although the four European Cups over seven years put them on another level.

In the Premier League years, the bar has been raised to an unprecedented height, and only tribalism prevents rivals acknowledging what Guardiola has done.

Sir Alex Ferguson will always have one aspect of his career separating him from Pep, namely the Aberdeen years.

Achieving what he did at Pittodrie is the most persuasive argument that he, not Guardiola, is the greatest. Others will measure Guardiola against the 13 Premier League titles Ferguson collected during his Old Trafford career.

Alternatively, Guardiola will have won six titles in his eight years in England. Only Jurgen Klopp will have prevented City winning seven championships in a row. Ferguson needed seven seasons to win his first.

Absurd to describe Guardiola as cheque-book manager

There are other churlish arguments thrown at City and Guardiola which do not stand up to scrutiny, like their success is solely a consequence of the money spent during his reign. It is absurd to describe Guardiola as a cheque-book manager.

Nobody can deny their level of investment has been a huge contributing factor in helping to build such a wonderful team. But as I have argued in this column on countless occasions, spending big is no guarantee of success and it does not ensure a side will emerge as brilliantly coached as City’s.

As Guardiola rightly observed, if it was that easy Manchester United and Chelsea would not be where they are right now. Based on the last published wage bills, United’s salaries are higher than City’s, and Chelsea’s are fourth in the Premier League. Their transfer spending is as much as, and in many summers greater, than Guardiola’s.

Sadly for Guardiola, the scale of his talent may never be fully appreciated until he has stepped away from the Premier League. After he has gone, City will continue to invest heavily in their squad but they will never consistently hit the same heights. It is impossible to be any better than they are during every title run-in.

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City win the Premier League in 2019
Manchester City will struggle to reproduce their peerless consistency once Pep Guardiola has left - AP/Frank Augstein

On the day Arsenal lost to Aston Villa and Liverpool were beaten by Crystal Palace on April 14, there was despondency at the Emirates and Anfield because the expectation was City would win their remaining six games. The title race felt like it was over there and then. We are on the brink of that being proven correct.

What team in the history of football has such a profound psychological impact on their rivals? With the great United side – no matter how good they were – you would never rule out mistakes in the final weeks.

Arsenal and Mikel Arteta have been magnificent. They are one game from winning 16 of their last 18 Premier League games, exactly the same as Klopp’s Liverpool in 2022. By all normal definitions, that form deserves a title.

As was the case with Liverpool, Arsenal’s wage bill is significantly less than City’s. They have taken on a juggernaut and look like they come up just short, not because of any flaws in their set-up, but because of the flawlessness of the opponent.

Anyone assessing this period in history and judging the close title races through the lens of Arteta and Klopp underachieving does not understand football, and the elite levels required to keep winning under the most intense physical and emotional pressure.

Arsenal, just like Liverpool, also had to overcome another disadvantage in pursuit of top spot which cannot be ignored, no matter how much Guardiola, City and the Premier League wish to sweep it under the carpet.

Charge sheet so huge, it has created a legal minefield

The foundations at the Emirates and Anfield were laid after a slow and steady rebuild with the clubs diligently abiding by the profit and sustainability rules designed to make it a fair race.

City, as we know, remain under investigation for fast-tracking their way to the summit and have 115 charges pending related to the years 2009-2018.

The club takes much displeasure in this being referenced, especially when they are the threshold of more success. They know the time taken to deal with this matter is an embarrassment for them and the Premier League. The charge sheet is so huge, it has created a legal minefield with the club disputing each allegation.

I would love to know how City’s owners, or those advising them, feel about the issue dragging on while the team prepares to win its fourth consecutive Premier League on the back of last year’s Treble. They must appreciate it is a public relations disaster.

Guardiola should be celebrated for his genius by neutrals as well as City fans. But whether he and his club likes it or not, City will never escape the shadow of those allegations until they are dealt with, the years of legal wrangling still preventing the club from clearing its name.

That is what baffles me about the whole sordid affair. When accusations are made against any individuals or institutions who have absolute certainty in their innocence, you would usually expect the demand of those involved to arrange a hearing at the earliest opportunity. Where is the statement from City expressing frustration or fury that the process is taking so long?

Kicking the can down the road means too many insults are being directed at a brilliant manager and his extraordinary team – none of whom will have a clue about how the club was operating in those years under suspicion.

Guardiola deserves better than lifting his sixth Premier League under such a cloud.

As a manager, a coaching and technical staff and a fantastic squad, Manchester City should be acclaimed for being one of the best football teams there has ever been.

As a club? I’d like to say the jury is out. Unfortunately, we have waited too long for a jury, or Premier League commission, to even begin to consider that verdict.