Pep Guardiola admits his Manchester City tenure will be defined by success in the Champions League no matter how many times his team wins the Premier League.
On Tuesday, City faces Bundesliga high-flier RB Leipzig in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 matchup looking to advance to the quarterfinals for a sixth straight season. Guardiola's team was held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg but is fancied to progress in front of its own fans at the Etihad Stadium.
For Guardiola, the quest to end City's wait to win Europe's elite club competition for the first time is both a source of frustration and inspiration. The 52-year-old manager has lifted the Premier League four times, while also winning four League Cups and one FA Cup during his remarkably successful seven years in Manchester. Yet, for all his domestic glory with City, it is the Champions League that remains the holy grail. Guardiola won the Champions League twice as Barcelona's coach, in 2009 and 2011, but failed to repeat that success in his three years with Bayern Munich. City lost to Chelsea in the 2021 final and has endured a series of agonizing exits from the knockout stages, with last season's astonishing late collapse against Real Madrid in the semifinals an especially bitter blow.
Asked if his time at City would be judged solely on his European achievements, Guardiola told reporters: "Yes. It doesn't mean I agree with that, but absolutely we will be judged by this competition."
However, he believes City's gradual progress from outsider to established member of Europe's elite under his leadership deserves more respect.
"Since day one when I arrived, sitting here for the first time, [the media] asked me 'Are you here to win the Champions League?'" he said. "I said 'What? If you are manager of Real Madrid, maybe I accept that.' But I accept it here. It's not going to change."
'Try again.' City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is adamant that the Guardiola era should still be deemed a success despite the failure so far to win the Champions League title.
"Every year we have been close, quarters, semis, final. We just haven't done the last bit. We are going to try again," he said. "If you care about the noise, then obviously it's going to annoy you. I know we haven't won it, but we have done really well. I know people only judge on if you win it, but there has been a lot of circumstances."
With City five points behind Premier League leader Arsenal, the Champions League is even more important for Guardiola's team this season. For City to win the Premier League or Champions League, the club will need Erling Haaland at his best. Haaland scored the penalty winner at Crystal Palace on Saturday to reach 34 goals in all competitions this season. Nevertheless, some people still criticize his lack of involvement in City's build-up play. Guardiola believes that the Norway striker can improve that aspect of his game.
"I don't like one player just to be in the box to score goals. Of course, that is important, it is the main thing, but it is not all we need of him," Guardiola said. "When we are away from the opponent's box, he cannot score a goal. We need him to be involved and to be active. He has improved a little bit, but on this he can do better."
© Agence France-Presse