Pep Guardiola lauded Manchester City’s stars and title rivals Liverpool after Sunday’s breathless comeback victory secured a fourth Premier League triumph in five years and sparked bedlam.
A decade on from Sergio Aguero sealing the crown in a jaw-dropping 3-2 final day win, a rocking Etihad Stadium witnessed similar drama just as the title appeared to be slipping out of their grasp.
Matty Cash and ex-Liverpool favourite Philippe Coutinho scored against stunned City, who knew the crown would head along the M62 to Anfield if Jurgen Klopp’s Reds eventually found a way to beat well-drilled Wolves.
Liverpool ended up 3-1 victors but City by that point had launched an unforgettable five-minute turnaround rendering that immaterial, with super sub Ilkay Gundogan scoring either side of Rodri’s strike in a 3-2 victory.
The Etihad Stadium had not seen such noise and drama since winning by the same scoreline against QPR a decade ago, leaving Guardiola beaming with pride and admiration.
“In the last five years winning four Premier Leagues, these guys are legends already,” Guardiola said.
“I’m sorry, people have to admit it. This group of players are absolutely eternal in this club because what we achieve is so difficult to do.
“Just Sir Alex Ferguson with United has done it years ago two or three times, now I realised again the magnitude of Sir Alex Ferguson and his United.”
Asked how he masterminded such an unlikely turnaround, Guardiola joked that Real Madrid had given him some tips after flipping their Champions League semi-final against City on its head earlier in the month.
“Well, I called Real Madrid and they gave me good advice,” he said with a smile. “This was the reason why.
“Listen, no explanation in Madrid, no explanation today. It’s momentum.
“Sometimes it’s nice to live these kind of situations. We live it for the future. I had a feeling that it will help us to be stronger next season.
“Maybe we need a little bit more time but every second that passes after winning this Premier League, we realise that four leagues in five years in this country is probably the best achievement we have done in our careers.
“It’s incredible. We’ll be so proud for a long, long time.”
Thousands of fans ran onto the Etihad pitch in celebration at full-time, with the party set to continue long into the night and into Monday evening’s open-top bus parade in Manchester city centre.
“The atmosphere was the best I ever lived since I am here,” Guardiola said.
“The last games against Newcastle and Real Madrid the Champions League at home was incredible, but today was so, so special.
“Hopefully tomorrow we can celebrate together in Manchester’s streets with our cigars and beers. I will bring my cigar, don’t worry.”
Guardiola arrived in the post-match press conference nearly two hours after the final whistle wearing a City home shirt with ‘21-22 champions’ on the back.
But his delight at retaining the Premier League title came with an appreciation of title rivals Liverpool’s quality and the importance of May 22, which marked the five-year anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack.
“We want to dedicate (this win as) today’s the fifth anniversary of what happened in the Manchester Arena, when 22 people were killed,” he said at the start of the post-match press conference.
“In this special day for us, we want to share it with all the families that suffered this terrible, terrible event.
“The second one I want to congratulate Liverpool Football Club for this incredible battle for the last years, especially this one.
“The magnitude of our achievement is related to the magnitude of this rival.
“Never ever I had a rival like Liverpool in my career as a football player and manager.
“That makes me feel more proud, all of us more prompted, about these players, this organisation because we know exactly which opponent we face. And we are incredibly happy.”
As for Villa boss Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool great was frustrated to see his side leave without so much as a point for their efforts.
“Look, I think we did everything ever so well up until the 70th minute,” he said.
“The game plan was working for three quarters of the game and I’m slightly disappointed we didn’t play a little bit more football at 2-0 to rest and stay with the ball.
“We decided to go into a protective shell, if you like, to survive rather than to really open it from our goalkeeper and to try and play so, obviously, I’m really disappointed that we had it in our hands for 70 minutes.”