The best compliment to pay Manchester City is to say that this season they have made the Premier League feel like Ligue 1 or the Scottish Premiership. They may well have lost four times in the league and, for a period around the beginning of 2019, their pursuit of the title hit a patch of turbulence, but that was overcome when they reeled off 14 straight victories.
The Carabao Cup win against Chelsea and their FA Cup final win against Watford at Wembley yesterday are not the big picture here but they do help to confirm City’s total superiority to every team in England.
Lucky teams can sometimes win one-off cup matches but on this occasion the cream has risen to the top. City are too good – in any context and in any competition. This is a team of historic proportions and their appetite for winning is undiminished.
There was a suggestion early on in Pep Guardiola’s reign that he might find it difficult to acclimatise to the rigours of this most particular of football environments. But here we are less than three years later with City looking like they could establish themselves on the pitch as the best team England has ever seen.
However, and City fans won’t thank you for pointing it out, what happens next could be troublesome and it may well check their progress.
It’s no secret that City have spent big money to get where they are. That has led to the green-eyed monster being unleashed at plenty of other top clubs both in England and abroad.
Not everyone has the resources that are available to City, backed as they are by an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund. City fans deal with criticism of their ownership with a hostile defence, as is their entitlement.
And they make that same reflexive response whenever reports of investigations into the club’s financial practices materialise.
They can easily write off rival fans as jealous and point to that jealousy as the reason for complaints.
For the various governing bodies currently probing City, it’s more difficult to make a case that they all have it in for their club.
It goes beyond City’s achievements on the pitch. No one is trying to stop City simply because they are too good. Instead, there are hefty accusations of financial wrongdoing by City. The team may have just completed the domestic treble but there is also a clean sweep of organisations investigating them.
The one that looms large is the one that last week was referred to UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body’s adjudicatory chamber. It covers potential breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations and could well carry a one-year ban from the Champions League.
City will no doubt fight any negative outcome for them at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to try to ensure they remain eligible for the one trophy that continues to elude them.
But there are also probes into City from the Premier League, FIFA and the FA.
The Premier League is currently looking into issues involving third-party ownership, the transfer of underage players as well as FFP.
FIFA, too, is investigating City for alleged third-party ownership breaches pertaining to the potential acquisition of young west African talents at the Right to Dream academy in Ghana.
And there is an ongoing probe by the FA into an alleged “impermissible payment” to the agent of Jadon Sancho when the Dortmund star left Watford for City in 2015.
None of this is going to go away easily.
Guardiola stated, before his team laid waste to Watford, that the club is innocent until proven guilty.
He was irked again afterwards when questioned over whether or not he gained any further money from City aside from his managerial contract.
The response he gave to that question made reference to that fact that it came on the day they won a trophy, suggesting that it was the wrong day to be talking about it. Like it or not, it is news and it is important. It’s not a question of timing, it’s a question of probity.
None of this is his fault; most of it happened before he was recruited, and he should not be expected to be the spokesperson for the club as a whole. But, as he is the one who has to face the press twice a week, he has to fill that role.
Pep is in control of football matters and performing brilliantly in that regard.
No one can lay a glove on them on the home front but things don’t appear so positive off the field. If it is proven that City have acted in bad faith then there will be repercussions to face.
In a few months’ time, City could well find themselves out of Europe for a year and with no possibility of signing players through an as-yet undetermined number of transfer windows.
Those punishments would no doubt hurt the significant progress made by the team under Abu Dhabi ownership, but if there is wrongdoing there should be consequences. Likewise, should City be cleared then the arguments around the sourcing of their finances should - but probably won’t - quieten down.
It is an impending storm for City, no doubt, and one they won’t stave off as easily as Pep has done to the rest of English football.