Thu, 2021-06-03 13:07

DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday.

Kai Havertz’s first-half goal meant the newly crowned English champions could not complete a historic treble, but Al-Mubarak said he was “very, very proud” of what the club achieved in a difficult season.

“When you reach the Champions League final, which is the pinnacle in football and sport, I think it’s an incredible achievement,” he said. “We’ve been working hard for so many years to get to this point. It’s about building blocks, it’s about growing and achieving our targets. And to achieve targets, you’re going to miss targets. It’s part of life, it’s part of football. You win, you lose in a final, that’s football.”

Mubarak conceded that Manchester City’s involvement in the proposed European Super League was a mistake that he regretted, one that the club has learned form.

“It was a decision based on a view, which was a mistaken view, that this will improve and strengthen our position as a club,” he said. “What it missed was an important aspect which is how the fans felt about it.

“We will learn from it, I have no doubt. Our fans appreciate the heart and spirit of everything we do.”

Despite the disappointment in Porto, the season still delivered the Premier League and Carabao Cup triumphs.

“It’s been a remarkable season by any description but it’s also the culmination of years of hard work to reach a level of consistency, a level of expectation, that this club has reached now, which is a club that will compete year in, year out,” Al-Mubarak said. “You can’t win every year, but year in, year out, we’re going to be there. For 10 years in a row, we’ve been in the Champions League, no other English team has done that. Five Premier League titles in the last 10 years.”

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Ten years ago, Al-Mubarak had set a target of winning five league titles in the next decade, and he now says that it wasn’t just hyperbole.

“It’s easy to say that now, but you’ve seen it happen over the last 10 years and that conviction wasn’t based on a prayer, it was based on clarity and planning, knowledge and the people we have in this club, a clear strategy and confidence in everyone to execute on it,” he said. “And then the talent. You need all of that. In a league the best team normally wins, and I think we’ve had the best team most of the time.”

“I know Sheikh Mansoor is immensely proud. His vision, going back to 2008 and what he wanted and expected over the next 10 to 12 years, has been achieved,” Al-Mubarak added. “And as we look at the next 10 years, his vision of what he hopes to achieve, I believe we are well positioned to achieve that.”

Manchester City started the 2020-21 campaign without fans and in relatively poor form, and had lost the league title to Liverpool the previous season, which for Al-Mubarak made it far more challenging one than previous years.

“It was a hybrid of two seasons because we were in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League in August, and we had no break,” he said. “There was a short period with almost no pre-season. You come back and start the news season, still in the midst of the Covid period. I remember very clearly, the Lyon loss gave us a big missing feeling. Losing the Premier League to Liverpool, in the way we lost it, then losing the Champions League, we needed to be mentally very strong to recover and come back.”

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“Even at the lowest point I had no doubts that we would get it right.”

This summer club legend Sergio Aguero is leaving the Etihad for Barcelona and City’s chairman is already planning to strengthen the squad ahead of next season.

“We need to constantly bring in talent, refresh and particularly when you are at a high level, at the top,” Al-Mubarak said. “Having won the league it’s not the time to sit back and be content, that would be a big mistake. This is the time to send a message that you’re committed and bring in talent, not just for the squad but for the starting 11. We lose a legend in Sergio Aguero. Very big shoes to fill but I’m confident we will find the right player, and there are other areas of the team which need investment. Not too many, it’s not about numbers, it’s about quality.”

One thing City’s management has never wavered from is their full support for Guardiola, who has now been longer at the Etihad than at any of his other previous clubs.

“His record here, seeing his work ethic and his passion, you can’t not be confident,” said Al-Mubarak. “Another thing to note with Pep is the humanity that comes with him. He’s a very special human being. I knew he was in a tough spot, at a low point, probably back in November before he signed his contract, and I look back at our meeting when we sat together, had long discussions and really had a refresh, a realignment. I saw a man that was so disappointed, in his mind, for not delivering what he felt he needed to deliver for this club, a man who had so much hunger but felt he’d let us down.

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“But he hadn’t, and that’s what I needed to make clear to him. I told Sheikh Mansoor I felt we would win the league, and I said I thought we would go far in the Champions League. I didn’t know if we were going to win it, but I thought we would go far.”

Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, Manchester City chairman, watches the English premier league football match between Manchester City and Brighten and Hove Albion. (File/AFP)
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