Manchester City stand 90 minutes away from glory and the trophy that has been in their sights since the day the club was transformed in September 2008.
The Champions League has always been the ultimate destination for City’s Abu Dhabi-based hierarchy from the moment they arrived to shake up the natural order of the Premier League and turn the club Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson dismissively described as “noisy neighbours” into a genuine European superpower.
It has been, some would say in typical Manchester City fashion, a Champions League road littered with bumps, mishaps and hard-luck stories, but two superb performances to dismiss the dangerous Paris St-Germain 4-1 on aggregate means they will meet either Chelsea or Real Madrid in the final in Istanbul on 29 May.
The celebrations at the final whistle told the story as one psychological barrier was cleared, with one more hurdle left to negotiate before they can claim the holy grail.
It all started back on that day 13 years ago when City’s new owners served notice of intent by pinching Brazil superstar Robinho from under Chelsea’s nose for £32.5m, tried to steal Dimitar Berbatov away from Manchester United and even threatened to make their city rivals – tongue-in-cheek or not – an offer they could not refuse for Cristiano Ronaldo. They may not have succeeded but the ambition was limitless.
That was the day the landscape of English football changed.
There was plenty of talk. And nights like the one they can now contemplate in Istanbul was where they wanted to take Manchester City from day one.
The ambition was seen in full effect when they effectively built a house at Etihad Stadium waiting for their perfect resident in their ideal manager. They put the pieces in place with former Barcelona pair Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano in readiness for their ultimate coup, the appointment of Pep Guardiola, who had won the Champions League twice at the Nou Camp.
Guardiola has not proved to be the magic bullet in Europe despite his spectacular work domestically. A third Premier League title will be confirmed if they beat Chelsea on Saturday, a fourth successive League Cup was won against Tottenham and they secured the FA Cup in 2019 as well.
The failure to land the Champions League has been the one cloud on the horizon, Guardiola’s City reaching the last 16 in 2016-17 but falling at the quarter-final stage in the past three seasons.
This was Guardiola’s first Champions League semi-final with City but it was a sign of the maturity, development, sheer quality and the team ethic he has fostered that it was negotiated in such relative comfort.
He was quick to pay tribute to those who have made their contribution – and then departed the building – to this occasion, such as Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and David Silva. Sergio Aguero, who made a late appearance as a substitute, now has the chance to conclude his record-breaking Manchester City career in the most glittering fashion.
PSG lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final last season and after ousting the holders in the quarter-final, they thought they were on the way to make up for last season’s disappointment. While they will rue the absence of the injured Kylian Mbappe in Manchester, over two legs City were just too good for them.
City will be favourites for the final after an outstanding campaign which has included seven straight wins in this competition, the first English club to achieve that feat.
The only sadness was that supporters who have been through so much over the years were not here to savour this landmark moment in Manchester City’s history.
Those supporters stood firmly by the club in the bad days down in English football’s third tier and suffered the years of Manchester United domination as downtrodden neighbours before emerging into the light amid the regular arrival of silverware over the past decade.
City’s last win away from the domestic stage was a triumph in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Polish side Gornik Zabrze in a Vienna deluge in 1970. Now their chance has come again 51 years later.
With the Premier League title champagne on ice, the League Cup won and a Champions League final to prepare for, these are sweet days to be a Manchester City fan.
City’s entire performance in beating PSG was a monument to what Guardiola has built. His players have bounced back from being overpowered by Liverpool in last season’s title race to reclaim their crown with consummate ease, while mounting their most successful assault on the one trophy that has proved tantalisingly elusive.
Much has been made, justifiably, of City’s attacking brilliance and it was on show here with the mercurial and now hugely influential Riyad Mahrez scoring twice, Phil Foden simply superb in all areas and Kevin de Bruyne probing to great effect.
If anything, however, it was City’s discipline and sheer ‘they shall not pass’ attitude in defence – an area that has been an Achilles heel in the past in this competition – that was arguably more impressive.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is an unsung figure but he was faultless here as he blocked crucially from Neymar while Ruben Dias, a transformative signing in central defence, did similar from Ander Herrera. These blocks were celebrated like goals – perhaps because they were almost as good as goals.
Fernandinho, captain on his 36th birthday, was the sentry in midfield, his presence so unsettling and persistent – and, yes, irritating – that Angel di Maria cracked with a senseless stamp on the Brazilian that brought a red card.
Manchester City’s easy-on-the-eye elegance has won so many plaudits but this was a night where they dug deep into their reserves of resilience – they were determined that the mistakes and slips that have brought them Champions League heartbreak before would not be revisited.
This was a complete performance that fully merited the reward of the club’s first appearance in European football’s biggest game. If they play like this, either Chelsea or Real Madrid will need to produce something special to beat them.
And if Manchester City win, it will be the realisation of a dream that was the distant vision in September 2008.