The clock was ticking towards midnight in Istanbul when the moment Manchester City craved finally arrived and this sprawling old metropolis on the banks of the Bosphorus could turn sky blue.
Manchester City have taken a scenic and often desperately painful route to winning the Champions League but the journey reached its destination at last as they were finally able to get their hands on the giant trophy with victory over Inter Milan.
The win also completed the Treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup for Pep Guardiola and his side, joining arch-rivals Manchester United as the only English club to achieve the feat.
For Guardiola, who paced and pawed at the giant technical areas of Ataturk Stadium in agitation throughout an attritional encounter, this was his legacy sealed, his place among the game’s greats secured by Rodri’s 68th-minute winner.
He knew there would always be an unspoken question mark about his time as Manchester City manager until the Champions League was won.
The judgement on his work would always be framed, unfairly or otherwise, around whether he could add to his two victories with Barcelona in this competition – the last in 2011.
The judgement can now be made. No further doubt can be cast on Guardiola’s greatness.
A final shrill blast of Polish referee Szymon Marciniak’s whistle will have sounded like the sweetest symphony to Guardiola and Manchester City’s players. This was what they had worked and – make no mistake – suffered for.
In his moment of triumph, Guardiola reacted with relative calm as he turned to make the long walk down the touchline, offering words of consolation to his Inter opposite number Simone Inzaghi.
And watching on high in Istanbul was Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour, attending only his second game since the club’s Abu Dhabi owners took control in 2008.
Clad in a Manchester City scarf, he smiled benignly as he watched the fruits of his fortune achieve the ultimate victory. Not a bad night for only your second game.
This is where the arguments about City take a different course.
No-one can escape the simple fact they are currently facing Premier League charges of 115 breaches of financial rules that many believe sully their glories. It will certainly enter the debate in coming days but it must also be stated that City deny the charges and will defend themselves strenuously.
Amid the golden glitter that soared into the Turkish sky as Ilkay Gundogan held the silver trophy aloft, there was a glorious release, an emotional exchange between Guardiola, City’s players and fans – many of whom will remember the misery of long ago when this club spent a season in English football’s third tier in 1998-99 but still drew average attendances of almost 30,000 at Maine Road.
Tears were shed as the realisation hit home that the day they longed for had finally arrived, that the Champions League pain was finally over. The mountain Manchester City have struggled to conquer had been climbed. No wonder grown supporters and plenty of players cried.
Kevin de Bruyne, who saw a second Champions League final cut cruelly short by injury, accepted this tournament had become both a dream and an obsession. The dream had been fulfilled. The obsession had disappeared.
Just in the last two seasons, City’s capacity for inflicting pain on themselves in the Champions League was illustrated in microcosm – by the loss to English rivals Chelsea in the 2021 final, then when defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory in a madcap semi-final second leg against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu last year.
There was a tinge of irony in Rodri emerging as City’s match-winner because one of the major debates after the disappointing loss to Chelsea in Porto was Guardiola’s mystifying decision to exclude his midfield powerhouse. No such mistake this time.
This, in many respects, is the end game of phase one in City’s assault on football’s European peak. Now the Champions League itch has been scratched they will surely be favourites for next season’s competition, indeed favourites once more for the three trophies they have won this campaign.
Guardiola looked drained as City’s players celebrated wildly around him. That was understandable because it will mean so much to him.
He has won five Premier League titles in six years and dominated domestically but this makes his work complete, for now. This driven, intense perfectionist will want to do it all again, and better next season.
This was the trophy Guardiola was brought to Manchester City to win. They had won league titles under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini before him. His mission was to win the Champions League, hence that lingering – and in reality nonsensical – debate about his time at Etihad Stadium.
The arrival of his former Barcelona cohorts Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain as CEO and director of football respectively was almost an act of getting the City house in order to welcome its most important tenant, namely Guardiola.
On this sultry night in Istanbul, he delivered his mission statement.
Manchester City were once dubbed “the noisy neighbours” by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. It was not a compliment nor was it intended as one.
They were certainly deafening as they poured out of Ataturk Stadium into the choking traffic and vast sprawl of Istanbul to celebrate City’s greatest night at the end of their greatest season.
They have won seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups and six League Cups since they came under Abu Dhabi control.
But the Champions League was the one they always wanted, the one they had eyes on since the day in September 2008 that changed the face of English football.
It has taken time but Manchester City have now finally changed the face of European football and this could be the start of an era of Champions League domination.