Treble Triumph marred by Taksi Troubles

Saturday, 10 June 2023. It’s a date that’ll be permanently etched into the folklore of Manchester City Football Club and the minds of those affiliated. Having tasted bitter defeat in the final of the UEFA Champions League two years prior, Pep Guardiola’s side returned to European Football’s greatest stage – with their hearts set on conquering the continent for the first time.

That heartbreaking loss to Chelsea in 2021 marked Manchester City’s first appearance in the final of the UEFA Champions League, though only a minuscule number of fans were able to attend the Estádio do Dragão due to pandemic regulations. Returning to the present day, there was a palpable party atmosphere in the streets of Istanbul in the days leading up to the match as fans prepared to flock through the turnstiles of the Atatürk Olympic Stadium.

Time for the Treble

Expectations were high for Pep Guardiola’s side, and pressure was mounting to write their names in the history books with a historic victory. Being crowned as European Champions warrants celebration regardless of the circumstances, though City would certainly receive extra credit should they emerge victorious – as they’d complete a stunning treble to round off a remarkable campaign.

Despite trailing Arsenal for large parts of the Premier League season, Pep Guardiola was ultimately able to overcome his former apprentice’s side, with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal having to settle for a second-place finish. Just a week before their season finale in Türkiye, Manchester City made the trip to Wembley to compete in the Emirates FA Cup Final. Against their local rivals, City were able to escape with the win – and as if that wasn’t enough of a stab in the chest for Manchester United, it opened the doors for the Citizens to complete the treble.

Countless storylines could be written about Istanbul’s staging of the Champions League Final for the second time. Liverpool faced AC Milan on the very same turf in 2005, and despite the Rossoneri enjoying a hefty lead at the break, Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool were able to fight back, taking the game to a penalty shootout – where they ultimately prevailed due to Jerzy Dudek’s heroics.

Furthermore, Inter Milan’s head coach is Simone Inzaghi. His brother, Filippo, was left out of the AC Milan squad for that dramatic final thirteen years ago – and despite now being on opposing sides of the Derby della Madonnina divide, Simone would certainly look to avenge his brother’s defeat under the floodlights of the Atatürk.

Yet Pep Guardiola had other plans. It was far from the best performance we’ve seen from his Manchester City side – in fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the worst. But ultimately, it’s the scoreline that matters on occasions like this, and the Citizens proved why they deserve to be recognised as European royalty. Rodri’s decisive strike in the 68th minute sealed victory, despite a late flurry of chances for Simone Inzaghi’s men.

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Taksi, Taksi!

Yet what should have been a thoroughly enjoyable celebration of football was blighted by poor organisation. Istanbul’s traffic is notoriously bad at the best of times, and is only made worse when 75,000 fans attempt to descend on the outskirts of the city.

Despite UEFA’s best attempts to urge ticket holders to use free shuttle buses, roads around the Atatürk were coloured with the iconic yellow of an Istanbul taksi. The result was a mass exodus of fans, deciding that travelling the last few miles on foot would be a faster alternative to sitting in stationary traffic.

Yet from conversations I’ve had with fans who spent the day in Istanbul’s historical city centre, the problem was amplified further for those attempting to travel from Yenikapi and Taksim Square. Queues of up to two hours were reported, with the issues worsened by lost drivers and unreliable vehicles.

And somewhat unsurprisingly, transport proved to be just as much of a problem after the match. Thousands of fans returned to the Manchester City fanzone expecting to catch a shuttle bus back to one of three destinations: Istanbul Airport, Sabiha Gökçen Airport, or Yenikapi.

Though when they arrived, just two buses were present. The hours passed by, and fans had been waiting for ninety minutes before they were given a brief explanation of the problem. One of the coach drivers indicated that some taksi drivers had infiltrated the shuttle bus pickup zone, causing complete carnage and bumper-to-bumper tailbacks.

With fans growing increasingly discontent with the lack of communication, they left in search of shuttle buses – scouting out a colossal converted car park to find transport. There were plenty of options for those wishing to return to Yenikapi, but for those with flights to catch, the options were scarce.

Three and a half hours after leaving the stadium and joining the queue for a shuttle bus, I finally arrived at Istanbul Airport – a journey that should have taken no longer than an hour. UEFA’s poor planning has once again stolen the show, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fans who should have been jubilating in the moments after their club’s greatest success.

What is absolutely clear is that the Atatürk Olympic Stadium is not fit to host a major European final. It’s a monumental shame, as it’s a striking stadium and one that could quite easily be considered as one of Europe’s best – but until public transport options improve tenfold, we’ll be repeating history without learning any lessons.