The writers of Ted Lasso, the acclaimed sugar-sweet comedy for Apple TV, never really cared about being out of touch with reality. After all, the world they created was based on an initially fantastical premise: an American coach who knows nothing about football succeeds in the turmoil of the Premier League.
In this case, it would make little sense to dismiss as too far-fetched the idea that some appendage team signs a power of attorney for Zlatan Ibrahimovic just because its owner insulted him, for example, in the bathroom, or a dog is killed by a wayward penalty kick, or “West Ham offered to take part in the World Super League.
Notably, there was one line the writers couldn’t cross. At the end of Ted Lasso – in every other way a decidedly romantic and uplifting show, an unabashed underdog tale of empowerment and personal growth and the overwhelming power of the good – Manchester City still wins the Premier League. Even in fiction, the City cannot be repressed.
The city is not a villain, in fact, in the Lasso cinematic universe. Instead, that role goes to a combination of conventional thinking and West Ham. Pep Guardiola even makes a cameo appearance in the show’s penultimate episode, offering short, distinctly Lassoist sermon that winning is far less important than the good people of its players.
Instead of being a bad guy, City serves what the show’s eponymous hero refers to as his “white whale”. He acts as the boss of the series’ final level, a portrait of unwavering athletic perfection, the only opponent that Lasso’s mustachioed, good-natured positivity can’t defeat.
Even when his team eventually defeats Guardiola, the victory is futile. City still win the league next week. Lasso, like many others, believes that second place is the best result available to everyone else. “What a shame,” says one of Lasso’s characters in the final scenes of the show. “City is too good.”
As part of the analysis, this is hard to beat. This year, as in five of the last six, City too good for anyone else in England. Even as he trailed Arsenal by eight points in the Premier League table, with the season drawing to a close and the distance to the finish line shrinking, it looked like City were about to lose the title.
From mid-February – when a lavish draw at Nottingham Forest sparked a full and frank exchange between City’s players, which Guardiola himself described as the turning point of the season – until the title was won, City played 12 league games. Premier League and won them all. During this three-month period, according to The Independent, he was only once behind in a match. The unusual state of affairs was corrected in 10 minutes.
Even though Arsenal were reeling, Guardiola’s team had an even bigger prize in their sights. He moved smoothly through the FA Cup and the Champions League, the prospect of a treble – league, cup and European victories – began to loom on the horizon.
In truth, high frequencies are a purely English obsession. Manchester United’s 1999 squad is the only English side to win all three major trophies in the same season. While this feat has become considerably more common in recent years – Barcelona and Bayern have accomplished it twice in the last decade and a half – it still functions as a trump card, an absolute claim to greatness.
His rarity is more precious to United than to anyone else. In last week’s FA Cup final, the two Manchester clubs were supposed to face each other. It was appropriate: United had a chance to preserve the club’s honor, to protect its proudest achievement. He duly held out approximately 12 seconds. The last remnants of English football’s resistance melted away. The city, as it turned out, was too good.
However, nowhere was this clearer than in the Champions League. That this is glory in Europe, that influential brokers and treasurers of Manchester City, as well as his coach – to crave more than anything in the world has long become a cliché.
Winning the Champions League was, if not always, Manchester City’s driving force: its final rite of passage, its final challenge, its white whale. To some extent, this is the goal of the whole project.
Everything – fortunes spent on players, a modern academy, Guardiola’s appointment, a global network of clubs, accusations of breaking financial rules in both the Premier League and the Champions League, court battles, the risk that all his achievements could be spoiled, misrepresentation entire sport – will be justified, at least in the club’s own assessment, only when and when City can call themselves European champions.
Thus, City have attacked the Champions League this season with exceptional determination. Bavaria was eliminated in the first leg of the quarterfinals. Real Madrid lasted a little longer in the semi-finals, but it was crushed at Etihad in second legthe reigning champion was dismantled surgically and brutally.
Guardiola made an exception for that victory over Real Madrid – it was one of the best of his career, he admits – but he tends to be modest when presented with all the superlatives that his team attracts. He will usually always insist that his Barcelona team remains the best he has ever coached, simply because he led it. Lionel Messi. His mere presence, Guardiola believes, automatically elevates any team.
Maybe it’s true: Messi gave Barcelona a miracle, a breath-taking feeling that no other player can match – not even Erling Haaland or Kevin de Bruyne. And yet, perhaps that makes the team that Guardiola built at City even more impressive. From a coaching point of view, perhaps this is his real masterpiece.
The city, of course, provided Guardiola with the most favorable conditions for working in the sport. He benefits not only from a budget that effectively allows him to acquire any players he wants, but also from the kind of full, uniform institutional backing that can only be a dream at most clubs.
However, the fact that he used him to create a team that does not have a single obvious flaw is not evidence for anyone but him. Manchester City 2023 is almost never missing a chance, not to mention goals. He scores from set pieces, counterattacks and long periods of possession. Can deal damage to enemies on the ground and in the air.
It doesn’t have, as previous versions might have, any slight penchant for extravagance thanks to Haaland’s seamless integration towards Guardiola, which – perhaps more in hope than expectation – was expected by many to be at least a bit of a challenge. when the Norwegian arrived last summer.
But it’s not the switch that defines this Manchester City vision; Guardiola’s most significant contribution this season lies elsewhere.
Last summer, he was a little worried about his ability as a cornerback, a key position in his system. Alexander Zinchenko left. His replacement, Sergio Gómez, was initially listed as an investment in the club’s future. Joao Cancelo’s form was patchy and his attitude was at times questionable.
And so Guardiola came up with a solution. Instead of asking one of his full-backs to move into midfield, as he has done in the past year or two, he assigned the task to centre-back John Stones and chose Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji, two of the team’s lesser-known members. his squad to balance the situation.
He explained the idea relatively briefly to his players; they had several workouts to try and iron out any kinks. And then, a couple of weeks later, they tried it in the game. There were one or two people who thought it was risky, but it was worth it: Stones, like Haaland, became a key player for City.
More than anything, it was this change that made City untouchable in England and Europe since the start of the year. He has already delivered two trophies; only Inter Milan is now standing in the way of a full set.
It’s curious, then, that this should also – effectively – be one of the main storylines in the final season of Ted Lasso: The coach has an epiphany and everything falls into place. This, of course, was just a fantasy. Guardiola’s success is concrete, factual, real. However, both have the same final conclusion. In the end, Manchester City wins.