Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City must secure more Premier League titles to earn the respect necessary to win the Champions League following their tame exit from Europe’s leading club competition.
City collected their third Premier League title in seven years last weekend, with a number of all-time domestic records still within their reach ahead of Sunday’s match at home to Swansea.
But that magnificent league form contrasted with the Champions League, in which City were emphatically beaten 5-1 on aggregate by rivals Liverpool in the quarter-finals, and their manager insisted his club was still some way from being able to compete for that prize.
“I realised this season how difficult it will be to win the Champions League,” said Guardiola, who lifted the European Cup as both a player and manager at Barcelona.
“Maybe I am wrong but before you win the Champions League as a club you have to win more Premier Leagues in a row first, to get respect in Europe that you are a top club. If you don’t, I realise this season it will be so complicated.”
He added: “Of course we are going to try but I don’t know if we are like a club to have the power on an off the pitch to achieve and to get there.
“So I would prefer, like this season, to be solid in the Premier League.
“The Premier League is the priority next season, absolutely. I will sign up right now if we can do what we did this season again next season. Right now. To win the Premier League together is the most important title.”
– ‘Constant’ –
Guardiola declined to expand upon precisely how a lack of respect cost his club in Europe this season although, at the time, the City manager was vocal about what he believed were poor refereeing decisions in the Liverpool defeats.
However, at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich the Catalan followed his first league title by winning two more in succession and he insists domestic superiority remains the priority.
“When I came here the chairman and sporting director never said ‘You have to win the Champions League’ or ‘You have to win the Premier League,’” said Guardiola.
“They didn’t ask me for one title. They said to do what you believe to do and try to be constant for a long time, for as long as possible.
“We did it for one season but I think to be a solid team, and Europe can start watching what we have done, it is not just one season. After that maybe in Europe we can do that.
“But what I have experienced for two seasons with this club in Europe, it is better to be focused on the Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao (League) Cup and then after try to arrive at the best moment possible for the Champions League.”
First, however, the City manager can enjoy the remainder of this extraordinary campaign, although Guardiola warned that next season would be tougher on his players — as indeed would he.
“They think that because they’ve done it once they will do it again and that makes them lose energy,” explained Guardiola. “When they used to run five metres now they run three metres. And that two metres makes the difference.
“That’s why next season will be more difficult –- and it is also why next season will be much harder. It happened in Barcelona and it happened in Bayern Munich. I made the players press more, I made them work more, and I had to find other ways to control them.
“I will be harder. Our relationship next season will not be this friendly.”