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Following his side's 7-0 last-16 victory over RB Leipzig last month, Pep Guardiola joked that he would be considered “a failure” if he did not win the Champions League.

It was a line delivered with a smile and wrapped up in an anecdote about Julia Roberts – one of his idols – once going to watch Manchester United instead of his City team.

"I am a failure in the Champions League," said Guardiola. "If I win the Champions League three times in a row I will be a failure. Even if I win the Champions League, it will not [ease] the disappointment of Julia Roberts going to United. My idol." 

It was not the first time Guardiola had made a similar claim. In February 2020, he advanced a similar theory and earlier this week he was making comparisons with other sports and the perception of what constitutes success.

“How many Masters has Jack Nicklaus played or majors has he played in his career? In 30-40 years as a golfer of four majors [each year]? How many wins out of 164 tries? Eighteen wins. Wow. He loses more than he wins. That is sport. In football, in golf, in basketball. Michael Jordan, the best athlete for me in basketball, won six NBA titles out of 14 years. He loses more than he wins.”

The Herald:

There has been a sense that Guardiola has had his tongue in his cheek when he has made these proclamations – he did, of course, win the cup twice at Barcelona – but like many of his notions there is a disingenuous edge to them. His record at City has been one of domestic dominance: there have been nine major trophies in a relentless period of success. Few would expect anything less. When the Spaniard arrived in Manchester, the club had already secured two league titles under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, plus an FA Cup and a couple of League Cups.

He was brought to City to build on those nascent victories but also to take City to the next level by winning the big one. Since then there has been a considerable disparity between domestic glory and success in the Champions League where City's performances – six attempts and six blanks drawn – can quite accurately be summed up by the use of Guardiola's own word 'failure'. And the inescapable conclusion is that that failure has been his.

It is a belief that gains currency with the recognition that – for the most part – his side's exits have come as a result of his inability to get out of his own way.

In the two-legged quarter-final in 2017 against Liverpool, he outmanoeuvred himself by tinkering with his tactics, sweating over his team selection in the build-up to the game – a moment that was memorably captured on Amazon's All Or Nothing series which followed City's progress during that season. His utterances about Spurs being 'the Harry Kane team' ultimately blew up in his face the following year when City were knocked out again at the last-eight stage by a Kane-free Tottenham. In 2020, he sprung a surprise by fielding a three-man defence in the defeat by Lyon. Two years ago, in the final against Chelsea, he was again shuffling his pack – omitting Fernandinho and Rodri from his starting line-up as he opted to play without a defensive midfielder. It led to a confused, muddled performance with those such as Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin de Bruyne seemingly uncertain of their job in the set-up.

Ultimately, City handed over the initiative and most of the momentum to Chelsea, who went on to win the trophy. The man who exploited those weaknesses in the City line-up that night in Oporto in 2021 will be in the opposing dugout once more when City attempt to reach another Champions League semi-final by beating Bayern Munich over two legs, the first of which is this evening. Indeed, Thomas Tuchel has a habit of turning into Guardiola's Kryptonite. On that occasion, in 2021 he became just the second manager to record three consecutive wins in all competitions against Guardiola. At face value that might look ominous but, in actual fact, it is the Spaniard who holds the advantage in the head-to-head between the two coaches with six wins in their 10 meetings.

And so, you fancy that should City prevail against Bayern one of the major obstacles left standing in the way of a first Champions League crown will have been removed. But then everything depends on Guardiola sticking to the plan, in him not producing a tactical curveball at the last minute which upsets his own team's rhythm more than that of the opposition.