Even in Pep Guardiola’s long and successful career in club management, what lies ahead is a bit different.
Standing between Manchester City and the coveted Champions League crown are three knockout games in the neutral city of Lisbon rather than the usual home and away clashes that previously cost them against Monaco, Liverpool and Tottenham under Guardiola.
This is more akin to a big summer international tournament with City knowing the quarter-final against Lyon next Saturday is their first match, and could also be their last.
‘It is quite similar to a World Cup,’ acknowledges Guardiola, who, unlike City, has won the Champions League before with Barcelona.
‘Every game is a final. You are in or you are out. We will see it against Lyon. There are no second chances.’
Besides his tactical insight and philosophy, Guardiola is known for his intensity. Maybe it’s why he’s never worked longer than four years at a club.
But with City now going away for nearly a fortnight in a Covid-secure environment where mingling with outsiders isn’t possible let alone welcome, the 49-year-old is aware his job is to decrease pressure in the new normal.
He knows Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho can be trusted. The priority is to ensure City’s players aren’t left stewing in a claustrophobic environment.
‘When you arrive at the stage of the competition and you see the desire of the players, the aim is just to have fun,’ says the emerging relaxed side of Guardiola.
‘I know the players are focused anyway. That is why we can not just stay nine or ten days staying in the room waiting for the moment of the match.
‘We must have walks, make good lunches and dinner together, and of course train as best as possible.
‘We are going to Portugal to enjoy the country of Joao (Cancelo) and Bernardo Silva. Eat well, be together, work a lot and laugh a lot.’
Guardiola is aware outsiders might judge his time at City purely on whether he wins the Champions League. It was the ultimate ambition of the club’s Abu Dhabi owners when they bought the club in 2008 and began their multi-billion pound investment.
Yet the 49-year-old insists he will not evaluate success or failure in the same way.
‘My memories will be of living in Manchester and working at an incredible club with this group of players and staff. This is my happiness,’ he insists.
‘Of course we will try to win the Champions League but if not, I won’t see it as a disaster. What I know I will leave (at City) will be great, awesome.
‘It’s not about winning titles. it’s about relationships with the English people I have met and worked with here. Part of me is a manager but I am a human being, this is my life. Are these relationships going to change because we don’t win the Champions League? Honestly, no.’
‘It happened in Munich. We won a lot of titles but not the Champions League. Am I going to say I was unhappy in Munich? No. And that I don’t have friends in Munich? No, I have many.’
The lifting of Uefa’s ban means this won’t be Guardiola’s last chance to win the Champions League at City.
But he isn’t decrying the importance for the club and its players for them to win the biggest prize of all having dominated domestic football since he arrived in 2016.
One only had to see Roman Abramovich’s face when Chelsea finally became champions of Europe in 2012 to realise what it meant.
This is City’s great chance and Guardiola acknowledges the importance of the players who have been on their journey.
‘This isn’t about me,’he says. ‘David Silva (in his final season at City) deserves it more than anyone else.
‘Sergio Aguero as well. Nico (Otamendi) was in the locker room against Real Madrid supporting his team-mates and he played the last 10 minutes. We are going to try.’
Aguero, City’s record goalscorer, is still in Barcelona trying to recover from a knee injury sustained against Burnley since June 22.
City are still hopeful the Argentine may be able to make a return for the latter stages of the Champions League. Though facing Lyon is optimistic, Aguero being available for a potential semi-final against Bayern Munich and final with PSG or Atletico Madrid is a mouth-watering prospect.
‘He’s getting better but I don’t know when he will join up with us,’ said Guardiola, after Friday night’s 2-1 victory against Real Madrid booked City’s place in the last eight.
‘Hopefully he will be in Portugal with us but tomorrow is tomorrow. We will speak with the doctors. That’s when we will see what the situation is.’