COMMENT: There's no escaping it. The symbolism smacked you in the face. Manchester City officially arrived last night. And the board rooms of Europe's biggest clubs are shaking...
Changing of the guard. Passing of the mantle. However you want to coin it, we witnessed it last night. The era. The cycle of this Real Madrid team is over. A group of players that have become synonymous with Champions League success. A team that has the spirit of this elite competition, it's history, it's magic... everything connected to the Champions League... it is represented by the Los Merengues shirt.
They talked about it in the lead-up. The players. The coach, Carlo Ancelotti. There was something mythical about Real Madrid and this competition. The shirt. The badge. Opposition teams knew, when you faced Real in the Champions League, you were facing more than simply XI men on the other half of the pitch. But that mystique was shattered last night. Better yet it was bulldozed... Steamrolled by a Manchester City team ready to take it's own place in this competition's folklore.
And we say take, because that's exactly what happened. City took, nay wrenched, Real's mantle away from them. And they did so with scant regard for whom - or even what - they were facing.
Reputations were shattered last night. Some may never recover. Real were made to look tiny on the Etihad pitch. Always two, three steps - both physically and mentally - behind City's rampaging midfield. It really was the end of this cycle.
The Merengues midfield were tame, tired and worn. The defence limp and feeble. The attack, well, non-existent. City toyed with this team. This Real Madrid team. If not for Thibaut Courtois it could've been a massacre. Five-time winners of this competition in eight years. It was humiliation in Manchester. Ancelotti, possibly out of sympathy, withdrew his senators before the end. Luka Modric (37), Toni Kroos (33) and Dani Carvajal (31) all seeing out the final whistle from the away dugout. Karim Benzema was left on the pitch, more out of necessity than anything else. The one like-for-like replacement on a bench of 12 substitutes was Mariano Diaz, a player Real have been trying to pay-off to leave for over a year.
But this night wasn't about the demise - and the future dismantling - of this generational team. This was about the emergence of Manchester City. At their modern Etihad stadium. Packed to the rafters. A home support that produced a wall of sound that never let up. Inspired by a team playing a combination of the very best traditions of English and Spanish football. It was a new level of power and pace meshed with a flair and speed-of-thought that Real simply couldn't live with. A style of play fitting for a new era.
Of course, there's still one game to go before City crack this European duck. And any fan would be crazy to write off Simone Inzaghi's Inter Milan. They tried doing the same to Jose Mourinho and Diego Milito some 13 years ago - and we all know how that worked out...
But no matter the result in Istanbul, City marked their arrival last night. The Treble is on. The momentum is with them. And the most concerning thing for the rest of Europe is that this is a team at the beginning of it's cycle. It's nowhere near it's peak. Yes, Kevin de Bruyne is knocking on. Ilkay Gundogan too. But inside City's board room there's a relentless ambition. There'll be no resting on their laurels. The appetite for silverware is incessant.
Even as this team hunt down their triple crown, Pep Guardiola, Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano are moving the chess pieces around. Seeing what fits and what needs fixing. As we say, they're relentless. Even ruthless. It was only a year ago we were talking about Joao Cancelo reinventing the game with his 'auxiliary' fullback role. Today? Today he's a post-mark. An afterthought. Guardiola had seen enough. Had indulged the Portuguese enough. And shuffled him off to Bayern Munich in January. You're either on this bus or off it. There's no inbetween.
As an aside, Kalvin Phillips would do well to take notice. Phil Foden too. Guardiola could be the best thing to happen to English football since '66. But the 'publife' mentality needs to change. The same can apply to Jack Grealish. All three locals can fulfil their potential working under the Catalan. But they need to be 'all in'. You'd never associate Xavi or Iniesta with bloody Dolce & Gabbana...
But that's up to them. The individual. It won't be a problem for City. They'll just move on. Relentless. Ruthless. They'll find new talent.
Last night, you fancy, was a watershed. The occasion. The spectacle. City - as a club - not only met Real Madrid as an equal, they surpassed them. They're a heavyweight now. A club the greats will want to associate with. That the next generation will want to represent. There'll be young talent across the world's best academies dreaming tonight of pulling on the Sky Blue of Manchester City in the future.
Last night was more, much more, than a 4-0 scoreline. Manchester City officially arrived last night. And the board rooms of Europe's biggest clubs are shaking...