Hired to turn Manchester City into true European heavyweights, Pep Guardiola failed just like those before him as his expensively-assembled side crashed out of the Champions League to Monaco on Wednesday.
A 3-1 defeat in the Riviera principality rendered City’s 5-3 home win academic as Monaco went through on away goals after an astonishing last 16 tie ended 6-6 on aggregate.
It ended Guardiola’s proud record of reaching at least the semi-finals for the past seven seasons with Barcelona and then Bayern Munich, while City became the first club to exit the competition having scored five goals in the first leg.
Hardly the way Guardiola, twice a winner as manager of a world-beating Barcelona side, wanted to celebrate taking charge of his 100th match in European competition.
While City’s owner Sheikh Mansour will give Guardiola time and plenty of money to get things right next season, the reality is the Spaniard’s first year at the helm will be classed as a major disappointment unless City go on to win the FA Cup.
Last season City reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time under Manuel Pellegrini – the Chilean who never quite won over all the City fans despite winning the Premier League and League Cup in his first season in charge.
Yet when it came to the crunch on Wednesday, City showed they have regressed. While a year ago it was Real Madrid who beat them 1-0 on aggregate this time it was a side that despite their flair do not yet occupy a place at Europe’s top table.
What made it all the more galling was the naivety of City’s first-half play when they surrendered the initiative to Leonardo Jardim’s side that was missing injured talisman Radamel Falcao.
Guardiola said beforehand that attack was the best way to defend their 5-3 advantage, but they did precious little of it in the first half. And not much defending either as Kylian Mbappe and Fabinho scored inside the first half an hour.
“We forgot to be there in the first 45 minutes,” Guardiola, who could not hide his frustration on the touchline, said. “The second half was much, much better but was not enough.”
City did indeed improve after the break, playing with a purpose that was lacking earlier.
But just when it looked as though Leroy Sane’s 71st minute goal had opened the door to the quarter-finals, City switched off and were undone by a classic set-piece goal as Tiemoue Bakayoko headed powerfully home.
“We will improve but this competition is so demanding,” Guardiola, who spoke of his team’s lack of experience in dealing with such situations, said. “Sometimes we have to be special and be lucky. Tonight we were not.”
Guardiola remains special – 21 trophies in seven years is proof of that – but for now he is playing second fiddle to Chelsea boss Antonio Conte in the Premier League and, incredibly, Leicester City’s rookie boss Craig Shakespeare in the European tournament he most cherishes.