The Manchester City boss will take a short break after the final defeat to Chelsea but has vowed to have his side back ready for a fresh challenge
Manchester City players were littered around the Estadio do Dragao as Chelsea’s went wild at the full-time whistle.
Oleksandr Zinchenko was still laying face down on the turf minutes later. Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and John Stones also took some time to get their feet while Sergio Aguero couldn’t hold back the tears on his last appearance for the club.
The Champions League is the one trophy that City want more than any other and they have never come closer to claiming it.
But another painful chapter was added to this story of a desperate quest for European glory and another season ticked by without the trophy in their grasp.
It was left to the father figure of Fernandinho to drag his team-mates to their feet, forgetting his own disappointment at being surprisingly left out of the starting line-up for the final – a decision that proved costly.
Pep Guardiola remained on the fringes for some time in his own private anguish.
Those close to the City boss say he will suffer the guilt at failing to guide his players to the trophy, just as he agonised over last season’s shock exit to Lyon in the quarter-finals.
The decision to alter a successful formation on the biggest night of the season will not be the problem. Guardiola has made big calls before and is ready for the fallout knowing that if they work he is hailed a genius or too clever for his own good if they backfire.
His only regret is that he got it wrong.
The 50-year-old has won the Champions League trophy twice with Barcelona but a decade on and nine failed attempts later – three with Bayern Munich and now five with City – the disappointment is starting to define him more than his successes.
Guardiola was solemn in his post-match press conference but tried to stay upbeat and reflect on a third Premier League title in four years as well as a Carabao Cup success.
“I would like to say it was an exceptional season for us,” he said. “It was a dream for us to be here [in the final], unfortunately we could not win.
“For most of us in this club it is the first time here, but we work to come back one day.
“It was a tough season in the pandemic, but we learn from this for the future. I have incredible respect for the players, they gave everything, but we will come back stronger.
“I want to congratulate them for their exceptional season.”
City’s players will be badly bruised and impacted by the defeat but many will be back in action soon enough at the European Championship or Copa America – should it go ahead.
Guardiola, meanwhile, will take some time away from football after a draining season during the Covid-19 pandemic which climaxed with a devastating finish.
But plans will not be on hold for long and the Catalan has to find another way of refreshing his squad for what is expected to be an improved Premier League challenge from rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United as well as yet another tilt at European success.
Some transfer discussions have already been held with director of football Txiki Begiristain to rejuvenate the squad and add more quality.
Aguero and young defender Eric Garcia are out of contract and on their way to Barcelona but Fernandinho is expected to sign a new deal after showing his importance in the final months of the season.
However, there are likely to be other departures to fund new signings.
Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy and Raheem Sterling could potentially move on, although finding buyers in the current market may be difficult with the pandemic having a serious impact on finances.
Money will be raised through the sale of other players on the books with loanees Jack Harrison, Lukas Nmecha, Pedro Porro and Yangel Herrera set to leave permanently.
Spending might not be easy with City often walking away from deals if they feel the price is too high.
A new striker will be the priority. Despite being successful without one, an out-and-out goalscorer could take them to another level.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane would be the perfect solution but prising him away from London and the grasp of notoriously tough negotiator Daniel Levy will not be easy with a fee of circa £100m ($142m) likely.
Inter’s Romelu Lukaku is a possible alternative as is Erling Haaland, although Borussia Dortmund seem unlikely to sell the Norwegian international.
Left-back is a position where they may look to strengthen although Goal understands that there are currently no plans to move for Nuno Mendes despite being linked with the Sporting CP defender.
Depending on the shape of the squad, another midfielder could arrive with Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish heavily linked with a move to the Etihad Stadium.
Guardiola will also turn to the club’s academy, with exciting teenager Cole Palmer set to have more first-team involvement next season and rising stars Liam Delap, Romeo Lavia and James McAtee being closely monitored.
As raw as the devastating defeat in Porto has been, the City boss knows they cannot afford to lick their wounds for long and that improvements will be made.
“I want to go home with my family. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them,” he said after the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea.
“I’ll take a break for one or two weeks and after we’ll decide what is best for the club for the next years and that is what we are going to try to do.”