For Manchester City and their fans – unbridled joy.
Not only at finally conquering Europe for the first time but snatching away Manchester United’s claim on the only major treble by an English club.
Image: Manchester United’s 1999 UEFA win. Pic: AP Winning the Champions League and sweeping three trophies wasn’t just an obsession of City and their manager Pep Guardiola. It was an expectation.
When you’ve spent billions assembling a squad – with the safety net of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth – domination is demanded from them.
It comes at the cost of sporting competitiveness.
Image: Pep Guardiola holds the trophy after winning the final. Pic: AP Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
Jack Grealish’s dad: ‘Amazing day son’ City did have to overhaul Arsenal to claim the Premier League. But it was a third title in a row – the fifth in six seasons.
Beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final was attritional rather than artistic. So was also overcoming Inter Milan by a single goal – with grit required to grind out Saturday night’s win in Istanbul.
Image: Pic: AP
Image: Pic: AP Even a squad of such sensational talents can’t be spectacular all the time.
And – while rivals can’t be expected to celebrate their glory – City’s supremacy draws particular scorn.
That has much to do with the cloud over the Blue Moon.
Abu Dhabi wealth has elevated City to the elite of European football over the past 15 years and provided once unimaginable funding to transform both the men’s and women’s teams and their facilities.
Image: Sheikh Mansour (front-right) with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) and FIFA president Gianni Infantino (front-left) at the final Whereas United once set the footballing standards – now that is City.
But this is a club fined twice by UEFA – in a settlement with the Champions League organisers for breaching Financial Fair Play rules and for obstructing a second investigation into their compliance with those rules intended to prevent unrestricted spending.
Spending beyond what they should have legitimately generated is at the heart of the ongoing Premier League case into City.
The allegation is that they cheated – with 115 Premier League charges linked to overinflating or disguising the source of income linked to their UAE ownership.
City insist the Premier League commission will have “irrefutable evidence that exists in support of its position.”
Through denials, the club has never refuted the specifics of the leaked internal correspondence about financial transactions linked to Abu Dhabi since first emerging in 2018.
Those who pursue investigations into City are dismissed by fans as envious of all the success and determined to prevent teams from gatecrashing the old elite.
But they are firmly the force of English and European football now – with a squad of lawyers unleashed to protect that status.
Image: Erling Haaland celebrating after winning the Champions League final match. Pic: AP “We’re not really here,” City fans chant, harking back to their days in the third division 25 years ago.
Is it really their club anymore or are fans the backdrop to a geopolitical project?
City can appear to be an extension of UAE foreign policy – a flagship sporting enterprise of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Mansour.
Read more from Sky News:
A treble! Manchester City win Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League
The investment has helped to transform a corner of east Manchester with the sprawling training complex built adjacent to an expanding stadium.
But City’s ascendancy can lack the local links that were the hallmark of United’s treble with no academy graduates starting the 1-0 win over Inter Milan.
And yet while City’s trophy haul is attributed to largesse of Abu Dhabi’s income, United have also spent more than £2bn on players and their salaries in the decade with scant success.
And Chelsea splashing out £600m on players in the last year could only produce a 12th-place Premier League finish.
It’s about more than having the cash but how you spend it. And who you entrust with honing a collection of stars into a squad.
Guardiola has benefitted from sovereign wealth that has turned football into a political power play.
But the former Barcelona boss has honed City into a ruthless winning machine.
A treble hasn’t completed the mission. Guardiola and Abu Dhabi will be targeting all seven potential trophies next season and complete global footballing domination.