The money and the talent count for a lot, but Pep Guardiola boiled it down to appetite. "The big competitors are like this. They are never satisfied," he said. Where he leads, his players gladly follow.
On the Sussex Downs, Guardiola became the first Premier League manager since Sir Alex Ferguson 10 years ago to win back-to-back titles. And at the end of a year when Manchester United have fallen down a chasm, Guardiola sounded a lot like the insatiable Ferguson, whose "repel all boarders" policy has been stolen.
The boarders were Liverpool. But Guardiola was ready for them. The first top-tier team to reach 100 points, 12 months ago, City amassed 98 this time round under severe duress from Jurgen Klopp's vibrant, relentless Liverpool. Guardiola told us: "That's why the second one, back-to-back, showed me the 100 points wasn't enough." Fourteen wins in a row conveyed the same message.
Remember when Guardiola's appointment was a mission statement, a big idea, a sovereign wealth project to give City an identity beyond mere financial might? Well, he has delivered on it, and will add further vindication if they beat Watford in Saturday's FA Cup final and complete the domestic treble.
A style of play is only part of it. The Barcelona-isation of City is only one factor. As Guardiola said of his players here: "After the hundred points and the World Cup [in Russia], we pushed them, we pushed ourselves, I pushed myself, the organisation [pushed itself]. It's the only way to be competitive."
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For that, you need a leader of demonic intent; one who never rests. Example: last year Kevin De Bruyne was City's best player, their fulcrum, but this season he has managed only 19 appearances on account of injury.
Guardiola tweaked the structure to make Bernardo Silva more influential, in the absence of De Bruyne's orchestration. He used the force of his own personality to even more telling effect as City rumbled to the end of a two-season cycle with 198 points and 201 goals.
After a 4-1 win over Brighton, Guardiola confessed to doubts about his team's ability to sustain the rampage of 2017-18. "But when I said 'they have to do that' they followed us, they followed me," he said. "I came here to try to play the way we have for the last two seasons. That's why I had the feeling the job is done [at Brighton]. In Spain it's easier because I believe I grew up in that way – but here it's completely different. But I have that feeling – we're done, we did it. But when the competition comes back again, we'll be there."
To hold off Liverpool, Guardiola had to empty his repertoire of managerial tricks and admitted it was the toughest league he had won, especially because of how Liverpool pushed City all the way.
In the Brighton tunnel while the announcer prepared his entrance, Guardiola rubbed his face four times, then slapped his hands together as the home team's staff studied him admiringly. About the only unstylish thing about him is that grey cardi-coat, which he abandoned when the sun came out; and when he finally marched on to the pitch, it was to be feted as a major figure in the evolution of the Premier League, not yet on the scale of Arsene Wenger or Ferguson, but with another firm step in that direction.
Man City's own MC said it best, praising his club for "mixing artistry with industry". In the early days, when Guardiola was new to this country, some tried to frame him as a pure passing addict with a belief in "beautiful" football that would be crushed on the playing fields of England. But they ignored big parts of his manifesto: the intense pressing, mental strength and total commitment he demanded at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
To win 14 consecutive games after Liverpool had raced ahead in this title race required these City players to be an extension of their manager's character. Their home win over Klopp's team in January displayed extraordinary fighting qualities. Any doubts Liverpool might have had about City's determination to defend their title were erased that night.
The inevitable frictions and setbacks of a 38-game campaign were barely visible. Leroy Sane fell out of favour – but Guardiola managed it. John Stones dropped below Aymeric Laporte and Vincent Kompany in the centre-back hierarchy – but it was no big distraction. Gabriel Jesus stagnated – but Guardiola simply eased him aside. Bernardo Silva graduated to a leadership role, Sergio Aguero was as lethal as ever and Raheem Sterling, with his 17 goals and inspiring stance against racism, added an extra human quality to a story that has partly been about sovereign wealth washing through global sport.
Guardiola signed for City in February 2016 and won nothing in his first season. He rebuilt ruthlessly and kicked off his winning run with the Carabao Cup in that 100-point league campaign. Improving City's Champions League record now needs to occupy the club's thoughts as much as a hat-trick of league titles.
In that quest, they possess a field marshal who has won an epic struggle with Klopp. Liverpool have reached two Champions League finals while Guardiola was winning two Premier League crowns. The gap is tiny. "We're so tired," City's manager said. "But winning the title gives you so much energy. It's addictive. Winning is addictive." For him, there is no cure.
The Telegraph, London