This was the week when a group of players wearing sky blue shirts broke new ground and delivered something that appeared impossible in modern football.
Not Manchester City, whose demolition of Real Madrid was merely the logical conclusion of super-talented, highly-paid executives spending mind-boggling funds on a super-talented, highly-paid coach and super-talented, highly-paid footballers.
Incredibly impressive, but a victory that somehow left you cold. Because City are proof that when extreme wealth is used extremely cleverly, it can be irresistible. It allows a club to buy Erling Haaland even when they have scored 99 league goals the previous season, or spend £100million on Jack Grealish simply to remodel his game.
Wonderful for City supporters who have known the barren years but for other football lovers, it becomes a little humdrum, even boring, as the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have grown to be. The elephant in the room remains that the club face the Premier League’s 115 charges relating to alleged rule breaches.
Yet as Pep Guardiola’s Abu Dhabi-backed juggernaut thundered remorselessly towards an inevitable first Champions League title, another City — Coventry — were on the brink of completing a footballing miracle under former Manchester United striker Mark Robins.
Coventry reaching the play-off final was the most heartwarming story in football this week
In contrast, Manchester City’s victory over Real Madrid somehow left you feeling cold
Coventry’s 1-0 win at Middlesbrough means they will face Luton — another fabulous story of redemption — at Wembley on May 27 for a place in the Premier League. Both clubs were in League Two five years ago.
No doubt whichever is promoted will take the customary six-goal thrashing at the Etihad Stadium next season but what Coventry have achieved to get this far would make it feel almost worthwhile.
After seven games this season, Coventry were bottom of the Championship with three points, seven adrift of safety, having also started the campaign under a transfer embargo.
They had to play seven of their opening nine games of the campaign away from home because the rugby sevens competition at the Commonwealth Games had left their pitch unplayable. Robins described a 3-0 defeat at Norwich on September 3 as ‘a sacking performance’.
In October, they faced the threat of being made homeless — for a third time — when their landlords, Wasps rugby club, entered administration. Somehow, they kept going, dragged themselves up the table and are now within touching distance of reaching the world’s most famous domestic league.
The events of this season have been bad enough, but they have become par for the course for Coventry, last in the top flight in 2001. The club’s existence has been in doubt more than once and they have had to play home games at Northampton and Birmingham, Robins somehow managing to lead the team to the League One title during their spell at St Andrew’s.
It is difficult enough for a brilliantly-run club to rise from League Two to the Premier League. Coventry are one step from doing so despite having been a basket case off the field. Now the clouds have lifted, with new owner Doug King signing a deal to ensure Coventry will stay at the CBS Arena for the next five years.
King agreed a deal in January to become the club’s sole owner after buying out SISU Capital’s remaining shares. SISU’s ownership had unfolded against a backdrop of decline, fury and protest. The relief among supporters was overwhelming.
Mark Robins has done an excellent job at Coventry, who are just one game from promotion
Gustavo Hamer only cost Coventry £1million but the midfielder has been hugely impressive
Kyle McFadzean has spent a career out of the spotlight but is now close to the top flight
City are gradually reducing the element of unpredictability but Coventry are keeping it alive
To see Kyle McFadzean and Gustavo Hamer cracking jokes and complimenting each other in post-match interviews at the Riverside was a delight. Hamer, a Brazilian who has spent most of his life in the Netherlands, is one of the best midfielders outside the top flight despite costing Coventry only £1m. Centre back McFadzean has spent a career out of the spotlight and clearly never believed he would get so close to top-level football.
Discussing the Manchester City conundrum, a colleague once admitted they loved going to their matches ‘to enjoy the show’, comparing it to watching Cirque du Soleil. Yet the allure of sport is that we cannot be sure what will happen next. Through their brilliance, City are reducing that element of chance season by season. If you already know what is going to happen, why watch football at all?
Thankfully, Coventry’s tale shows that the game still retains its ability to surprise. A proud club pushed to the brink of ruin and in the bottom tier only five years ago has found its voice again. They now prepare to take the final step at Wembley.
And no matter how many trophies Guardiola wins, no matter how many goals Haaland scores or Kevin De Bruyne creates, the real beauty of sport lies in stories like Coventry’s.