The Champions League final is upon us! And indeed, it has all the potential to be a defining classic, with the added narrative juice provided by two German teams showcasing their European Cup swagger at Wembley stadium. To the credit of many of the English papers this morning, most of the big dailies-perhaps out of consideration of the fact their audiences now reach well beyond Blighty-have acknowledged there will be a final tomorrow. The Guardian has even tasked renowned German football expert Barney Ronay with running a live blog.
Generally, match previews are a horrible waste of time, so I’m not going to bother you with the stakes. You know what they are. For Bayern, a coveted treble and a wonderful end to their insanely dominant year, an ominous welcome mat for Pep Guardiola courtesy of Jupp Heynckes. For Borussia Dortmund, consolation for their league form this year maybe, but an enormous statement on behalf of Juergen Klopp’s exciting, youthful brand of soccer.
You see how useless this sort of thing is?
Mostly because tomorrow will generally be a toss-up. A single game result often comes down to luck, particularly against sides as well-matched as these (although Dortmund is the obvious underdog). Which is fine, and should provide solace (eventually) to the losing side. That’s football, bloody hell. The achievement may not be so much in winning the damn thing as navigating to the final.
That’s because it’s far better to measure a team by their process than by their results. And by results here I don’t mean winning more games than you lose, but trophies. Which is why Manchester City chief executive Ferrano Soriano’s remarks should leave leading candidates for the managerial job like Manuel Pellegrini cold:
“I think that next season is going to be much better. I am convinced about that,” Soriano said. “It doesn’t mean we are going to win one or two titles but in the grand scheme of things, if we look at the next five years and I could plan now, I would say I want to win five trophies in the next five years.
“That may mean we win no trophy one year and two in another but on average I want one title a year. That includes the Champions League, the Premier League or the FA Cup. Is it a realistic aim? I think it is, yes, but I am talking about five years.
“If next year we don’t win but progress our football and get to the semi-finals of the Champions League, finish second in the Premier League and lose the FA Cup final again that will be fine.
“What we are asking the new manager to do is build a squad but also a football concept and a way of working that will last for the next 10 years. The manager has a shorter span [than that]. We are asking the manager to win this season, next season and every Sunday.”
In here are two demands that don’t always coincide with one another. “Have a football ‘concept’ that will define the club for the next decade, but make sure you start winning trophies immediately, now GO!” Good clubs with a good system, good tactics, and a good overall process will win more trophies over the long run. But process should not be measured strictly by trophies won, particularly in knock-out competitions often more defined by random variation (unless you’re Rafa Benitez apparently).
If Pellegrini’s City finish within three points of the top of the table for the next few years, or make the semifinals and lose in all competitions, does that make his team a failure? Are managers supposed to be so good they completely transcend the nature of fortune in football? If so, even a brilliant City side is going to have a bad time if they attempt to define expectations strictly in short term silverware.