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Ken Early: A guilty verdict on Manchester City’s 115 charges would poison Guardiola’s legacy

Triumphant City boss doesn’t need to wait around for things to turn sour and could be best to take a leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book

A few minutes after the final whistle at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City’s official account on X posted: “THIS MEANS FOUR”, interspersing the words with four trophy emojis.

The text was a play on Liverpool’s marketing slogan “This Means More”. It was remarkable that at the moment of triumph – a historic triumph, the first English club to win four titles in a row – City were thinking about Liverpool.

Around the same time, in the home dressingroom at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp was addressing his players for the last time. “I love you . . . that’s all I can say. The football you are able to play is absolutely ridiculous, I can’t wait, watching you developing, making the next steps, you come in third . . .” – he broke off, and turned around with a questioning look – “I don’t even know yet who became champion?” City, someone confirmed.

At some point Sky will release the viewing figures for the day and we will know how many viewers wanted to watch City’s historic team win its title decider, and how many chose instead to watch a 56-year-old German walking around hugging people.

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City would have made the choice easier for many people by taking the lead against West Ham after just 76 seconds, putting the Premier League title race to sleep faster than a patient is anaesthetised on an operating table. The news of Phil Foden’s goal numbed and silenced the Emirates, where Arsenal fans had turned up hoping for a miracle. So much for that.

Out of the three clubs at the top of the table, Arsenal had the best season. They were the ones who expressed their talent to the fullest, they were the only ones who managed to beat their direct rivals in head-to-head matches, and they arguably played the best football.

Yet somehow they finish the season feeling the worst. Klopp’s Liverpool can empathise with the feeling of losing out to City in title run-in extermination mode. But on the two occasions that happened to them, they at least still had a Champions League final to look forward to.

For Arsenal there is now just a long wait until August, and the rest of their lives to reflect on the handful of moments when a brilliantly-fought title race slipped away from them. The draw against Fulham that effectively finished Aaron Ramsdale’s time as the number one keeper. The chaotic and inexplicable defeat to West Ham. The defeat to Aston Villa sandwiched between the Bayern games.

The question for Mikel Arteta: how do you strengthen a side that already looks so powerful? Kai Havertz scored what proved to be Arsenal’s last goal of the season – but does he really offer enough at centre-forward? Wouldn’t Arsenal be more formidable with a real front-runner like Ollie Watkins or Alexander Isak? If Havertz had turned up in the first half of the season, maybe they would be champions today.

Then again, maybe the “close” title race of 2023-24 was an illusion created by Kevin De Bruyne missing the first half of the season with a hamstring injury. Erling Haaland was less effective in the absence of his main supplier. The pair combined last Tuesday for the breakthrough goal against Spurs that all-but-confirmed City would be winning the league again.

The City fans were waving inflatable bananas – a relic of the time when they were a football club and not a Gulf state’s soft-power project. Next week they could follow the first ever four-in-a-row by becoming the first side to win two Doubles in a row.

Meanwhile over at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp, for the third time in his career, was leaving a club after a successful stint of many years, bathed in the grateful tears of an adoring city.

He assured the crowd that he did not have supernatural powers and that the club could continue to be successful even after he was gone.

“Believing is an active act . . . We decide if we are worried or excited, we decide if we believe or don’t believe, we decide if we trust or we don’t trust.”

Maybe it’s true that if you are somebody like Klopp you can simply decide whether you feel confident or excited or trusting. But most of us take our cue about how to feel from the people around us.

Like Alex Ferguson in 2013, Klopp used his final speech to urge faith in his successor. “ARNE SLOT! La laaa la lala!” was his version of “Your job now is to support your new manager!” But we all remember how that ended.

The grin on the face of the departing coach was in jarring contrast to the dejected faces of his players. The fact is that Liverpool’s performance under Klopp has been way above their historical averages. He has led Liverpool to four of their six highest points tallies since the 38-game era began in 1988. He has also presided over five of their six highest-scoring seasons in that era.

Under Klopp, Liverpool fans got used to winning nearly every week. It’s that, rather than the trophy count, which will make it difficult for Arne Slot to match up.

Pep Guardiola, objectively far more successful yet somehow not as beloved, must wonder how Klopp does it. With his eye for detail, he will have noticed that one element of the German’s method is leaving people wanting more. He doesn’t wait around for things to turn sour.

How close might Guardiola be to making the same decision at City?

“The reality is I’m closer to leaving than staying,” he said coyly, although his next remark made it sound like he was closer to staying than leaving: “We have talked to the club and my feeling is that I want to stay now. I will stay next season.”

If Guardiola sticks around for another year he will most likely be there to see the outcome of City’s 115 charges. A guilty verdict would poison his legacy. He must be confident there will ultimately be no punishment.