Manchester City 2017-18: Guardiola's masterpiece about more than money
Pep Guardiola has spent €526.3million to make Manchester City Premier League champions.
It is an outlay that dwarfs €204m during his title-winning run at Bayern Munich and €342m over a glorious and defining four-year reign at Barcelona.
When City broke their transfer record by paying Aymeric Laporte's €65m release clause at Athletic Bilbao in January, Guardiola became a €1billion manager.
All that happened when Manchester United remarkably lost to West Brom eight days on from their party-pooping exploits was the team with more resources than anyone else won the league. What's the big deal? Nothing special.
"I am a lucky guy," said Guardiola when pressed on this familiar topic ahead of the 3-2 derby reverse.
"When the people say you win because you spend this money, I would say something: you are right.
"It is impossible to do that without money, the way we played."
The financial backing Guardiola has always enjoyed, and will continue to at City, is rightly as much a part of his career narrative as crashing at the business end of the Champions League is at this moment.
But do not lapse into false equivalence and claim this undermines Guardiola the coaching visionary, Guardiola the razor-sharp tactician and Guardiola the obsessive winner. To play the way City have – dazzling on a canter to the title, breaking records and bringing others into view – might be impossible without money, but it is impossible with money alone.
The City Guardiola inherited limped to fourth place in 2015-16, 15 points behind shock Premier League winners Leicester City and only inside the Champions League places on goal difference.
For all the money spent subsequently, Guardiola coaxed a breathtaking team from the nucleus he inherited.
Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi were all in the building when he arrived – some club icons, some fondly thought of and some in danger of being labelled expensive mistakes.
De Bruyne has morphed from a high-calibre attacking midfielder with a knack for goals and thirst for assists into a master of all he surveys from midfield, bending games to his will and always alive to the big moments.
More consistent, calmer and never more effective, De Bruyne sits as one of two attacking playmakers alongside Silva in Guardiola's 4-3-3 – given the bold and varied use of his full-backs, this is effectively a 2-3-2-3 in possession, the like of which the Premier League has never seen before.
On a cold rainy night in Stoke pic.twitter.com/rK027WannN— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) March 13, 2018
Heavy defeats in the middle of last season left Guardiola at a crossroads and he doubled down on his vision.
The aging full-backs and supporting cast were not fit for purpose, but De Bruyne and Silva plugged away alongside one another to forge an unbreakable understanding. Now, when City overwhelm opponents befuddled by relentless and vibrant attacking patterns, they are pulling every string.
Silva added to a body of work that makes him arguably City's greatest ever while playing through the unenviable hardship of having his prematurely born son lying in intensive care in Valencia. His imperious level never wavered.
The way the manager, squad and staff rallied around the ever-dignified Spain international spoke of a club in touch with its human qualities, and Guardiola's capacity to nurture has never been more apparent than in the case of Raheem Sterling.
A year on from becoming the most expensive English player in history, Sterling looked a broken player at the end of Euro 2016. Money had proved no guarantee.
Patchy form continued but so did Guardiola's intensive coaching and encouragement. The 23-year-old will head to the World Cup on the back of the most prolific season of his career, with a penchant for injury-time winners amid some still erratic finishing.
Sterling and Leroy Sane working in tandem and in full flight on City's flanks has probably been the most consistently thrilling spectacle of their title charge, although Ederson's unique interpretation of the goalkeeping position runs them close.
Claudio Bravo's clanging entry to the Premier League last year brought inevitable scoffs. Why did Guardiola want a goalkeeper who could play with his feet? How about one who can use his hands!
To the disappointment of many would-be comedians, Ederson can do both magnificently. Probably Guardiola's most-important signing, the Brazilian's range of passing and execution of it has given City's bravura play another dimension from deep.
Ederson's unconventional but reassuring presence has underpinned the Premier League's most miserly defence, one led by Otamendi – the most remarkable transformation of them all.
A centre-back who appeared entirely ill-suited to the vaguest idea of a Guardiola team as he pieced together sliding challenges, rash decisions and absurd theatrics into baffling 90-minute segments, he became City's defensive lynchpin - leading the way in attempted passes, clearances, blocks and interceptions.
The Argentina international's ordeals against United and Liverpool demonstrated the progress he has made, albeit in a far from ideal way. He used to play like that most weeks.
That is Guardiola's triumph in a season where he has reasserted his credentials as the best coach in world football; he challenged fine players of varying ability and experience to improve by buying into his methods and ensured they reaped the rewards.
He might be a lucky man, but City's dressing room is full of those.