Chris Hatherall: It may not fill the heart with joy — but Man City deserved this achievement

It is no secret that ever since the day he walked into Manchester in 2008, Sheikh Mansour has made becoming champions of Europe the Holy Grail
Chris Hatherall: It may not fill the heart with joy — but Man City deserved this achievement

Manchester City's players celebrate after winning the Champions League semi-final clash with Paris Saint Germain. Picture :AP Photo/Dave Thompson

It doesn’t exactly fill the heart with joy that one of the shameless rebels who betrayed football with the infamous Super League breakaway now has a place in the Champions League final — but if it was going to be anyone, then this outstanding Manchester City side deserves it most.

It is no secret that ever since the day he walked into Manchester in 2008, Sheikh Mansour has made becoming champions of Europe the Holy Grail and valued the competition above all else.

That may sound ironic when you consider City took their place among the selfish 12 who sought to make the trophy meaningless by setting up their own alternative, but there is mitigation.

City were the first club to pull out and perhaps the last to join, too. The over-used excuse that ‘they didn’t want to be left on the platform when the train left’ rings truer for the noisy neighbours than for any of their rivals, given where they have come from and how hard they had to work to get there.

When Mansour first arrived in England, the club was already growing and well financed — but memories of life in English football’s third tier were still sore enough to make the idea of becoming European champions seem far-fetched and over-blown.

Perhaps that’s why it meant so much to him because he kept that dream alive even when City fans — fed up of Uefa’s seeming contempt for the club in a series of controversies — booed the Champions League anthem and left seats at the Etihad empty even for big European games. Now, of course, all seats are empty — but there are signs that City fans, already looking forward to another Premier League triumph, have been won over by the owner’s enthusiasm for the competition, the determination of Pep Guardiola to win it — and by the quality of their team.

Looking at the players on the pitch and the football they play, there’s absolutely no doubt that City deserve to be in this year’s final, which will be Sergio Aguero’s last hurrah and Phil Foden’s opportunity to show he is the next superstar. But there is also a case to say City deserve it for what they have done off the pitch over 13 long years.

It is noticeable, for instance, that there was no protest outside the Etihad last night of the kind seen at Old Trafford when fans forced Sunday’s game against Liverpool to be postponed.

There was, of course, anger in the ranks at the way City sold their Premier League colleagues down the river, but no Manchester City supporter is going to turn their back on owners who have transformed not only the club but the community it serves.

Take a look at east Manchester now and what the club has done for the city is remarkable; the area is transformed.

Yes, it has all be achieved with money, and there are people who will say City have tried to buy the Champions League. But the money has been well spent. On good players, on youth development, on women’s football, on incredible scouting networks, top coaches and state of the art facilities — not to mention a family of City Group-backed clubs across the world.

The owners have picked good managers, chosen outstanding players and turned others who were not yet great into superstars; and it says a lot about the club that even with all those riches and all those transfers, they still have space in the ranks for a player like Foden who has been nurtured through the youth team.

They have also been patient with players. Take John Stones who has been supported even when things were going wrong for him. Take Raheem Sterling, who has improved beyond recognition through good coaching. And, most of all, bear in mind Riyad Mahrez who took time to settle after a big money move from Leicester but who scored his 13th and 14th goals of an outstanding season to put City in the Champions League Final at last.

The performance from every single player was immaculate, with heroes right across the pitch — not least in defence where Ruben Dias, signed from Benfica in September 2020, was outstanding alongside Stones.

Plenty of neutrals will have wanted PSG to win, not least because the French champions were one of very few global giants to shun the Super League. But the quality of the home team’s performance, and the sight of PSG losing their heads as Angel di Maria was sent off, proved the right team got there.

For Manchester City to go from facing Gillingham in a play-off final in 1999 (bidding to reach what is now the Championship), to facing Chelsea or Real Madrid in a Champions League Final in Istanbul in 2021 is a story to relish.

Let’s give them the praise they deserve — and keep the dream alive for every other club in Europe, too.

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