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DANNY MURPHY: Champions League victory would be deserved for Pep Guardiola

Published on: 08 May 2021

Although there are two English teams in the Champions League final, I’ll be rooting for Manchester City and I think most people outside Stamford Bridge will feel the same.

Winning Europe’s biggest prize with City would rubberstamp everything Pep Guardiola has worked for over five years and it’d be thoroughly deserved. Beating Chelsea in Istanbul would make it the greatest season in City’s history, one of the greatest seasons in anyone’s history, and would never be forgotten.

I think there is a general feeling of goodwill towards Pep achieving that. Nothing against Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel has done a great job since he arrived, but they’ve progressed with a more pragmatic style and their time will come again.

Why City? Mainly as a reward for the phenomenal football Pep has served up since he came to England and the way his team have conducted themselves, particularly this season when a 21-game winning run given all the circumstances is extraordinary.

To rebuild a team that lost Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and David Silva, and arguably make it even better is amazing. Yes, money has been spent but that’s not enough on its own to build what City have. I can see the tireless work undertaken on the training ground over a very long period of time spanning years not months.

I was disappointed when Frank Lampard and Jody Morris left Chelsea but you can’t deny the job Tuchel has done by making them harder to beat and getting a nice blend of youth and experience.

I have no problem with a team being pragmatic if that’s their best opportunity of winning but ultimately I love watching football played on the front foot, to enjoy its majesty. It’s fair to say my blue shirt will be lighter at the end of the month.

Becoming European champions would be a fitting end to a record-breaking season for City and they’d deserve all the statues and acclaim that would come with it.

More than one Manchester City player is being talked about as Footballer of the Year material but in my view the guy who transforms them from excellent into exceptional is Kevin De Bruyne.

Premier League footballers aren’t easily intimidated but occasionally they’ll come up against an opponent and think ‘I wish he wasn’t there’. That’s how I felt when Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo were lining up in the tunnel and now it’s De Bruyne creating that fear factor. I’m sure Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan love the way their team-mate occupies the thoughts of defenders.

It’s hard to put into words how rare it is to find creativity on De Bruyne’s scale, and it appearing so straightforward for him.

He picks out passes on a crowded and fast-moving football pitch like a driver switching gears on the road. It’s pure second nature.

All top players have the technical ability to pass a ball, it’s seeing the pass that’s hard when the space is opening and closing so rapidly around you. De Bruyne has the pictures in his head. He sees situations other midfielders wouldn’t. He’s in double figures for Premier League assists again this season, and in double figures for goals in all competitions. He’s a leader, an athlete, and a certain pick for any World XI.

Legendary teams need at least one player who can unlock the door because the teams they face will invariably sit back. De Bruyne is that player for Pep Guardiola’s City. In 20 years when we reflect how good they were, he’ll be spoken about as fondly as Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are today as all-time greats.

I was a midfielder — not in De Bruyne’s class I should say before it’s pointed out! — and can’t stress enough how difficult it is to show his bravery of taking responsibility every minute of every game.

Creating is much harder than destroying, particularly when you are tired or frustrated, which is I admire him even more than other City players like Ruben Dias who have been outstanding.

In a stats-obsessed society where every block and clean sheet is counted, let alone goals and assists, we shouldn’t lose sight that we still love players who make you smile and what you to turn the telly on to watch. De Bruyne does that.

I hope he now goes on to win the Champions League because that would give him the final piece of official recognition for what he’s done this season.

Vision like his cannot be coached but you can tell he’s worked hard to maximise his qualities. There will be have been repeated technical drills to improve his passing and crossing, and hard running which means he’s got the stamina to be effective late on in games.

He’s also become a fabulous judge of the pace of a game. Some players hide if they lose possession or over-compensate by trying to be even more ambitious at the wrong times.

De Bruyne has this knack of going through spells of a game by keeping things simple, not trying to force things if the pictures aren’t there, if the match situation doesn’t justify a more risky pass. So he waits until the right time. It sounds simple but it’s not when you feel responsibility on your shoulders.

Some of his contributions this season, at home to West Ham, away to Leicester, have been invaluable. The biggest compliment I can give De Bruyne is there is little gnashing of teeth about “finding his best position”. The truth is he changes a game whether out wide, as a No10, a deep-lying midfielder or even false nine. Not many can say that.


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