Even after a successful treble-winning campaign last season, Manchester City had its sights on even higher honors in 2019-20 and the seasons ahead -- specifically, the club's first-ever UEFA Champions League title. This afternoon, that door slammed shut, as UEFA banned the club from European competition for two years due to Financial Fair Play violations.
This is not the time or place to discuss whether UEFA's punishment fits the crime, or whether UEFA's treatment of Manchester City is on the level of clubs who may have committed similar offenses over the years.
At this point, the club is at a crossroads. Manager Pep Guardiola is under contract until 2020-21, but there is speculation of a clause that allows him to opt out of his contract at the end of this season -- although Guardiola has denied that one exists. However, there is reason to believe this could be Guardiola's final year at the Etihad. For one, Guardiola has never spent more than four years with any club he's managed.
Furthermore, this has been the weakest season of his tenure in Manchester, one where it seems as though he's lost control of his team. After a loss to Manchester United in December, he even admitted as much, saying, “That is the level we face against -- Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus. They are the teams we have to face and the reality is maybe we are not able now to compete with them."
This is quite an unusual admission for a manager of a team that, just two seasons prior, became the first Premier League team to reach 100 points in a season. But the numbers don't lie. Barring a horrific collapse by Liverpool, City's run at a third consecutive league title is just about over as they are 22 points back with 13 matches to play.
It's not just Guardiola's future with the club that's in doubt. With no Champions League football for two seasons, many of the team's stars could seek a way out. Midfielder David Silva is a flight risk, as he will be out of contract following this season.
Despite this, there are still achievements to focus on. In March, City will play in the finals of the Carabao Cup against Aston Villa, giving itself a shot at its fifth win in that competition in seven years. City is also still in the running for this year's Champions League, as the club has made the Round of 16. The Sky Blues are still in contention for their second straight FA Cup as well, having made it to the quarterfinals after drubbing Fulham 4-0 in the Round of 16.
This may be the final season that this Manchester City squad as we know it has a chance to make a splash on the international stage. It may not be the most impressive team City has ever put out, but it may be the best we'll see from the club for a long time.