IT'S HARDLY a secret, that it's been Manchester City's, Pep Guardiola's, and most of all, Sheikh Mansour's overriding ambition to win the Champions League.
This ambition, and a hell of a lot of money, has seen the once unfashionable Manchester club rocket to the top of English football in just a decade, winning four Premier League titles in the last 10 years and well on their way to winning another at the start of this new decade.
While these, and the slew of League Cup titles under their belt, have raised their profile to new heights in England, they have not been able to crack the elite nut that is the Champions League, yet.
Such has been their dominance of the game in England that it is almost incomprehensible that they have yet to even make the final, not to mind claim the crown in Europe's top competition. Indeed, their best finish, a semi-final exit in 2016 happened when Guardiola wasn't even in charge of the club but rather under the control of the amiable Chilean Manuel Pellegrini.
Pellegrini's failure to get them over the line was one of the reasons why Guardiola, then the most successful manager in the world, was quickly shoehorned into the job. It has therefore been a source of much frustration that Guardiola has since failed to better or even equal Pellegrini's achievement.
Off the field, that City are effectively a state-owned club of the Dubai royal family eager to sportswash their international reputation through its ownership of the club, has often been used as a stick against the club.
Because of that many fans, especially those with Champions League heritage, scoff at the nouveau riche City, pointing out that it takes years of tradition and pedigree within the competition for a club to eventually claim the 'big ears' prize. For many, there is a belief that it takes years of trial and error to make your mark on the competition before you have the experience in the club to claim a Champions League title, and no amount of money can buy the class you need to win such a prestigious prize.
Besides the fact that the Real Madrids, Barcelonas, Man Uniteds, and even Liverpools of this world are hardly a bunch of down on their luck, plucky clubs struggling to do business on the side of the road, after a decade of consistent play in the Champions League, maybe now Man City too have garnered the experience and consistency needed to win the competition beyond even what their money can buy.
As much as City have been seen as a failure in claiming the title by now, one cannot deny that they have been rather unlucky in their campaigns of late. Anyone who watched their last two quarter-final exits, against Lyon last year and Spurs in 2019, would agree that they were the far better side but bad luck, goal-difference and dodgy officiating decisions combined to steal triumph from Guardiola's grasp. Maybe now they have the wherewithal to break their losing cycle.
This season already looks a lot more promising for City. Their amazing recent form has seen them win their last 19 matches in all competitions, keeping 13 clean sheets. And if that isn't impressive enough they now also have playmaker supreme Kevin De Bruyne back in their ranks. So intense is competition for places at City that someone like Ferran Torres struggles to make the starting line-up despite scoring four goals in the group stage — twice as many as any of his teammates.
Wednesday's result against Borussia Monchengladbach once again sees them on the cusp of making the Champions League semi-final. It is looking so promising now for City and in this mixed up pandemic season, old form and pedigree may mean little in the spectator-free stadiums of Europe anyway.
A clear path to the final awaits them, the only thing that may stand in their way ironically is the only other state-owned club in the world, who have suffered the same slings and arrows fired at City, the Qatari-owned juggernaut that is PSG.