How does a coach go from winning the Champions League in two of his first three participations in the competition to falling short on every entry since?
It’s not like the Bayern Munich side that Pep Guardiola led over the past three seasons or the Manchester City squad that he is a distant 11/1 sixth favourite to guide to glory this term weren’t at a level where they should have been capable of challenging.
Bayern were holders and had reached three finals in four years before he arrived – they wouldn’t make it to any under him – and collected 62 points more than Borussia Dortmund, the second best German club, during his tenure, yet never translated Bundesliga control into European silverware.
There are hints of the same pattern unfolding at Man City, who top the Premier League and have won seven of their nine domestic fixtures but have claimed one victory in three Champions League group games, being beaten 4-0 away to Barcelona in the latest.
Why is it that someone who has proven their ability to succeed in Europe before and continues to thrive in every other tournament keeps being denied? The simple answer is that he is struggling to slay the monster that he gave birth too in Spain.
Guardiola made Barcelona brilliant and forced Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to ascend to a level that they hadn’t achieved before this century just to hang with them and, though he has constructed excellent teams at Bayern and Man City, he hasn’t been able to kill his own creation.
All three of his Champions League eliminations since departing his homeland, which account for 60% of his overall total, were inflicted by La Liga’s star trio: Real Madrid (5-0) in 2013/14, Barcelona (5-3) in 2014/15 and Atletico Madrid on away goals this term.
His four returns to Spain have resulted in four losses by an aggregate 9-0 margin and, while he has won two of the three home matches, they were second legs, his sides kept no clean sheets, leaking seven times in total, and never prevailed by more than one goal, so they were powerless triumphs.
Until Guardiola sends out a team capable of scoring in Catalonia or Madrid, let alone avoiding defeat, he probably won’t complete his hat-trick of Champions League wins as a coach.