Anyone whose heart is not made of steel must have been touched to see Sergio Agüero cry. The attacker from Manchester City Football Club stood on the side of the road late on Saturday evening, fighting his disappointment without anyone hugging him or even patting him on the shoulders. His teammates and coach Pep Guardiola as well as the other members of the club had already withdrawn very quickly into the interior of the Estádio do Dragão in Porto after the lost final against Chelsea FC in the Champions League – but Agüero did not want to disappear anytime soon.
Seven years ago, in November 2014, he spoke to the tabloid Daily Mail made a promise to his club: “I will stay until we win it!” – I will stay with Manchester City until we win the Champions League. It was a “class act”, as an action with style is called on the island, because Aguero was undisputedly the best player on his team at the time, while City had at best built a moderately good team around him. Only with difficulty did they survive the preliminary round in the premier class, before the end of a round later in the duel with the eventual winners FC Barcelona.
There was great concern at the club that the Argentine goalscorer would terminate his long-term contract in order to pursue his dream of winning the Champions League elsewhere. Instead, Aguero swore allegiance to the club until City recently let his contract expire at the behest of coach Guardiola. After a total of ten years and 184 goals in the Premier League – no player has ever scored more often for a single club.
In the best case, the injury-prone Agüero, who will turn 33 on Wednesday, will get another chance with his new club Barcelona to win the premier class for the first time in his career, but certainly not as a Manchester City player. Aguero crouched for minutes, the silver medal hanging like lead from his neck. Again and again he tried to wipe the tears from his face. It looked heartbreaking, you would have loved to run to the celebrating Chelsea players to grab the cup and give it to Aguero.
In every interview, Guardiola has to justify his lineup
After the final whistle, the two flagship players Ilkay Gündogan and Kevin De Bruyne were also worried that they might never – and certainly not with City – win the most prestigious European Cup. Near the center circle, Gündogan, 30, mourned the missed opportunity, not even the hand he held in front of his head could hide his despair. De Bruyne, 29, previously howled unrestrainedly when a violent collision with Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger forced him to be replaced early (60th). His left eye was horribly swollen and it was reported on Sunday that he suffered a broken eye socket and broken nose. With the help of the supervisors, De Bruyne stumbled dazed from the square. Also inconsolable was Oleksandr Zinchenko, the left-back whose position error had enabled the decisive goal for Chelsea by Kai Havertz (42nd). A goal that City had in an almost identical way against Chelsea a few weeks ago in the FA Cup semi-finals was undoing. In each case, you let yourself be lured far from the defense and were then overplayed with a targeted pass.
Of all the tears, the grief and the tragedies in the team, only one seemed to want to show no sign of City: Pep Guardiola. First of all, he congratulated his coaching colleague Thomas Tuchel and then watched the opponent’s celebrations from a distance with almost no emotion. It was “a sad day”, admitted Guardiola, but nevertheless his team had played “an extraordinary season”. Congratulations to the players! Guardiola had an easy time talking: He has already triumphed as a coach in the Champions League twice, in 2009 and 2011; once as a player in 1992, when the competition was still called the European Cup – always with FC Barcelona. It was an honor to be here, with an encouraging smile he added: “Maybe we will come back one day.” And if not? Then one person in particular should be remembered.
In contrast to previous years, Guardiola had mostly avoided daring, hardly rehearsed experiments in the Champions League qualifying games this season; With a pragmatism rarely practiced by him, he led City into the final for the first time in the club’s history. Against Chelsea, his line-up looked free of any surprises – except for one position. There was no room for Guardiola for the technically not overly versed midfield clearers Fernandinho and Rodrigo. Without the two in the starting line-up, City had only played one of 60 games this season: the subordinate home game against Olympiacos Piraeus in the preliminary round (3-0). For Fernandinho and Rodrigo, Gündogan moved to the vacancy in front of the defense. The plan: game control through ball safety, at all costs!
But that was at the expense of the goal danger, because Gündogan, as the best city shooter (17 goals this season), was deprived of the freedom to push forward for most of the time. The result was a single shot on goal. And with opposing ball possession, City lacked a counterpart to Chelsea’s outstanding N’Golo Kanté, who played as a defensive midfielder how you can not play better. The Guardian commented smugly: “Was that a misprint? The tactical mastermind of the day picked a team that wasn’t working. It looked muddled, a city team that consisted only of sauce and not linguine. (…) Oh “Pep. You do this to yourself. You do it. And that’s what really hurts. How about trying to win by victories rather than by an act of tactical messianism?”
“Pep Guardiola’s game of chance fails on the biggest stage”
In every interview, Guardiola later had to justify his decision. At BT Sport, UK, he said he did what he thought was the best idea; on the microphone of the Qatari channel BeIN Sports, he replied curtly that he had done “the best”. It was only at the press conference that Guardiola stated that she wanted to find “the little players between the lines”. The project failed, however, because Tuchel instructed his outside attackers to close the pass paths into the center and to direct City’s build-up of the game to the undesired flanks. In addition, center forward Timo Werner took his compatriot Gündogan almost in man coverage. The Times headlined: “Pep Guardiola’s game of chance fails on the biggest stage!”
However, the outrage over the choice of the starting XI obscures the view of City’s real problem. In the second half of the previous season, the absence of the injured goalie Agüero indicated that the talented Brazilian Gabriel Jesus is not an adequate replacement at the top international level. Due to the age-related departure of offensive all-rounder David Silva, the personnel situation in attack worsened again at the beginning of this season. City has not been able to close the squad gap that has arisen to this day – although almost two billion euros – in figures: 2,000,000,000 – have been spent on new players since Sheikh Mansour, a member of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi, took over the club in September 2008 United Group. Around 350 million euros in the two previous years alone. In order to solve the problem, City now seems – irony, irony – to be willing to spend even more money in the upcoming transfer summer. Preferably for Dortmund’s most accurate attacker, the Norwegian Erling Haaland.
Sergio Agüero then no longer has to deal with possible new competition. His brief appearance against Chelsea in the final stages (six ball contacts) was his last, his 390th appearance for Manchester City. He could tell that he could hardly bring himself to leave the stadium. Agüero actually wanted to stay until City wins the Champions League.