Scrutinising Pep Guardiola’s Record in the Champions League

A Pep Guardiola managed team failed to reach the UEFA Champions League Final for the 7th season in a row since his famed F.C Barcelona squad won the competition in 2011. Following this, Guardiola has faced inevitable criticism questioning whether he will be able to win another Champions League and, more specifically, whether he can win the trophy without having a Lionel Messi-led team.

When scrutinising Pep’s European record, it is worth noting how some of his contemporaries and other managerial greats have fared in the biggest competition in club football. Sir Alex Ferguson, often described as the greatest manager of all time, has won the same number of Champions League titles as Guardiola despite the former Manchester United manager having competed in 9 more editions of the competition. Furthermore, along with fellow European football leaders such as Carlo Ancelotti, José Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal, the Scot has a lower win rate in the competition than Guardiola.


UEFA Champions League Finals win/loss record (year)

CL semi-finals reached

CL quarter-finals reached

Number of seasons managed in CL

CL win percentage (%)

Luis Enrique

1-0 (15)





Jupp Heynckes

2 -1 (98, 12, 13)





Zinedine Zidane

3-0 (16, 17, 18)





Pep Guardiola

2-0 (09, 11)





Louis Van Gaal

1-2 (95, 96, 10)





Diego Simeone

0-2 (14, 16)





Carlo Ancelotti

3-1 (03, 05, 07, 14)





Sir Alex Ferguson

2-2 (99, 08, 09, 11)





José Mourinho

2-0 (04, 10)





Jürgen Klopp

0-2 (13, 18)





Arsène Wenger

0-1 (06)





On top of this, only two managers have won more UEFA Champions League winners medals than Pep since the competition’s inception in 1992: Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane. It is a sign that Guardiola has set himself impossibly high standards as a result of his star-studded and revolutionary Barcelona team capturing two CL titles in his first three seasons at a major club. Not only a victim of his own success, Guardiola was also faced with the unenviable task of having to take over at a Bayern Munich team that had just won the treble (Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Pokal). The Catalan native therefore had sky high expectations and no room for error, with anything less than a repeat of the Bavarians’ success to be deemed regression and failure. 

After cruising through the 2013/14 group stages and dispatching of Manchester United and Arsenal, Pep’s Bayern ran into a devastating counter attacking force that exposed a weakness in his system. At the time, Real Madrid were relatively starved of European success and chasing ‘La Decima’. After a semi-final first leg in which Bayern had 72% possession but succumbed to a Karim Benzema goal, the German outfit were “accused of valuing possession football ahead of the penetrative sort” per The Guardian, a criticism in reference to their ‘tika-taka’ football that would follow Pep throughout his career. Bayern were trounced on their own turf in the return leg, with a 4-0 loss summed up by a breath-taking counter attacking goal where the Bayern midfield were bypassed and the central defensive partnership of Jerome Boateng and Dante cut wide open by the clinical play of Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Worse was to come the following year when Bayern, domestically dominant as ever, again exited at the semi-final stage, this time at the hands of Guardiola’s former team. Even though Barcelona boasted the talents of Messi along with Neymar Jr. and Luis Suárez in a 3-pronged attack, Pep set his Bayern team out to play a suicidal high line that allowed Neymar and Suárez ample space behind the defence, with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Messi able to pick out their runs. Despite this, Bayern were kept in the game by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer but following two moments of Messi magic, Neymar exposed this tactical error to clinch the 3-0 win with his breakaway goal putting the 2nd leg out of reach for Guardiola’s side.

More disappointment was to come in Guardiola’s 3rd and final season in Bavaria as Bayern were once again unable to advance past the semi-final stage, this time losing to Atletico Madrid on away goals. Over the 2 legs, Bayern had 74% possession and outshot the Spanish side 53-18 with familiar criticism levelled at Pep with regards to his team’s one dimensional, possession reliant style being vulnerable to defensively strong teams that were proficient at counter attacking.

Manchester City’s appointment of Guardiola in June 2016 was made with the understanding that he had experienced winning club football’s ultimate prize. But in his first three seasons at the club, the Spaniard is yet to reach the semi-final round of the competition, let alone the final. 

In his first season, City were surprisingly dumped out of the Champions League on away goals by a youthful AS Monaco team. Monaco’s exuberant team, which included Kylian Mbappé, Thomas Lemar as well as current City stars Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy, were able to capitalise on City’s frailties and score 6 goals across the two legs. Whilst this exit was disappointing considering Monaco’s inexperience and Pep’s pedigree, it was somewhat understandable due to an unbalanced squad with ageing fullbacks. Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov, who have all since left the club, were all clearly past their prime and this fact was consistently exposed by the young French side.

Improvements were expected following a spending spree which included over £120 million spent to address the problematic full back position. In spite of these costly additions, City were overwhelmed by a high tempo Liverpool game plan at Anfield in the 17/18 season and again failed to reach the semis of Europe’s premier club competition this year after losing out on away goals to Tottenham Hotspur. Whilst Pep wasn’t blameless for this exit following an underwhelming performance in the first leg where City struggled to impose themselves and Leroy Sane was confined to the bench for 89 minutes in a bewildering tactical decision, it seems harsh to place too much blame on him for the second leg. City largely dominated and won 4-3 on the night, with the three Tottenham goals stemming from two errors from the usually reliable Aymeric Laporte and a fortuitous Fernando Llorente arm/hip finish. Furthermore, whilst Llorente’s goal could have been ruled out for handball, Raheem Sterling’s dramatic ‘winner’ was ruled out by the newly introduced Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system, meaning that without VAR intervention and following the rules from every previous year of Pep’s UCL career, City would have surely advanced. This is now the third season in a row Guardiola has failed to reach the Champions League semi-finals, having succeeded in doing so in his first 7 seasons in the competition. 

Controversial official decisions have to be mentioned when evaluating Pep’s Champions League career with the Catalan being on both sides of questionable decisions. In 2009, there was an infamous Champions League semi-final 2nd leg between Barcelona and Chelsea in which the west London side thought they were unfairly denied 4 penalty shouts before Iniesta sent Barca to the final with their only shot on target. Additionally, in 2011, there was more controversy as Arsenal star Robin Van Persie was given a ludicrous red card for kicking the ball away 1 second after the referee had blown his whistle. Arsenal were leading Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate at this stage before losing 4-3 as Barca went on to win Pep’s second Champions League. Guardiola’s Barca nearly benefited from questionable officiating again in the 2010 semi-final 2nd leg as Thiago Motta was given a harsh red card, though Barca were bitten by the same hand that fed them as the goal from Bojan that would have sent them through to the final in Madrid was incorrectly ruled out.

Not only do the fine margins of refereeing decisions affect perceptions of Pep’s success, but more general plays can greatly alter managerial legacies. A plethora of things can happen on a pitch to tilt the result of a match one way or another, with the manager having no control over them. For example, if John Terry converts his infamous penalty in Moscow 2008, Sir Alex Ferguson has only one Champions League final win to his name. Does the fact that Terry slipped mean we should see Ferguson as a better manager? Of course not, it was simply luck in the same way that Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba each hitting the woodwork in extra time that night was. The list goes on: Guardiola would only have 1 Champions League if Iniesta’s last gasp shot in 2009 was a few inches higher, Jupp Heynckes would likely have 3 CLs if Arjen Robben scored his penalty in the 2012 final. Even in this year’s edition, finalists Liverpool would have been knocked out at the first hurdle had Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik not fired straight at Alisson in the final minute of the group stage. Managers have no control over these moments and it is imperceptive to solely look at the end results rather than use critical thinking to evaluate the process of a match.

Pep’s Champions League legacy is complex with many different factors having to be considered. He has almost exclusively had super-teams at his disposal and whilst he has heavily influenced European football’s ethos in the past decade, he has underperformed on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, criticising a manager that has reached 7 semi-finals in 10 years seems harsh considering the Champions League is notoriously hard to win, with there being no team able to retain the trophy from 1992-2017 (Real Madrid retained the trophy in the 2017 season). Guardiola set impossibly high standards for himself in his first 3 European campaigns and whilst there is no shame in failing to meet or exceed those expectations, his Champions League record in his 3 seasons at Manchester City have undoubtedly been a disappointment (especially considering the £500M that has been spent on transfers). If he wants to put the scrutiny to bed, it is time for Pep to join the exclusive list of managers to win the UEFA Champions League with multiple clubs.


Samuel Hogan

An English language and Spanish university student who has been a passionate football fan since a young age with an interest in tennis and the NBA amongst others.

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