After Barcelona bypassed Bayern Munich last week, John Murphy wonders if Pep Guardiola is all he is cracked up to be?
Last week, Jose Mourinho finally opened up about his thoughts regarding Lionel Messi. Often tight lipped when it came to the Argentinian wizard, it had always seemed that the Special One was slightly resentful of Messi’s extraordinary gifts. However, after an awe inspiring performance at the Camp Nou, The Special One finally conceded what an exceptional talent the Barcelona forward is.
‘You have doubts that Man City with Messi can win the Champions League?’ said Mourinho.
‘Or Arsenal with Messi can win the Champions League? Or Chelsea with Messi can win the Champions League? Or Man United with Messi can win the Champions League? Don’t you think? I think so. One thing is a team; another thing is a team with Messi. It is a different story.’
‘He played a Champions League final with Guardiola, he is most likely going to play in this season’s Champions League final with Luis Enrique and if, one day, he plays for Anthony, Anthony will go to a Champions League final with him. When people analyse teams, you have to remember that this boy makes everything different.’
As is frequently the case with the Portuguese manager, his surface compliments were cloaked in hidden jabs. In stating that ‘Anthony’ could win the Champions League with Messi in their side, he was taking a shot at long-time foe, Pep Guardiola.
In 4 seasons in charge at the Camp Nou, Pep claimed 3 league titles, 2 Champions Leagues and 2 Copa Del Reys. He won the Supercopa de Espana 3 times, he won the UEFA Super Cup in 2009 and 2011 and he also won the FIFA Club World Cup, twice.
Pep’s trophy haul in just 4 years in charge at Barcelona was simply baffling. Having previously only managed the Barcelona B team (for just one season), Guardiola had come from nowhere to suddenly be regarded as one of the greatest managers in the world. What Mourinho’s statement questioned however; just how hard is it to win when you have the greatest team in the world at your disposal?
In the 2009 Champions League Final, Guardiola had at his disposal a team that included the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Thierry Henry and of course, Lionel Messi. Manchester United, their opponents on the night, had the likes of John O’Shea, Ji Sung Park and Anderson in their starting 11. In hindsight, how difficult a game could that conceivably have been for the Barcelona manager to oversee?
In 2011, Barcelona once again faced Manchester United in the final and as was the case in 09, their team looked incomprehensibly gifted. The Catalans had acquired the likes of David Villa, Eric Abidal and Dani Alves, while their English opponents were starting with current Real Madrid bench-warmer Javier Hernandez and current Cardiff full back, Fabio Da Silva… hardly a difficult task to overcome with what is often considered as the greatest team of all time.
With the arrival of Mourinho to La Liga, things became less of a walkover for the man in charge at Barcelona and after The Special One claimed the league title in 2012, Pep walked away, stating tiredness as the main reason for his decision. In this case, it seemed that when the going got tough, the tough did not get going. Either that, or Guardiola was never tough to begin with.
After taking some time off the former Barce manager witnessed another team of potential dominance coming to fruition in Germany. In the 12-13 season, while Guardiola was resting, Bayern Munich stormed to a historical treble, destroying Guardiola’s former rulers 7-0 in the process.
At the time, Pep was the most sought after manager in world football and with Jupp Heynckes announcing his intention to retire at the end of the season, Guardiola was once again free to take over the (then) best team in the world.
Since acquiring the position however, Guardiola has fallen far short of the achievements of his predecessor. In two seasons in charge, he has overseen two title victories and one DFB-Pokal. However, the Champions League has remained far from his grasp and after Real Madrid embarrassed his side in the semi-finals last year, it now looks like Barcelona are set to do the same.
After Jose Mourinho confirmed the title with a win over Crystal Palace last week, he stated that the Premier League remains his ‘favourite’.
‘I could be smarter,’ said The Portuguese manager. ‘Like other managers, I could choose teams and countries where it’s easy to be champions, where they can enjoy calmly their success.’
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce who The Special One was again referring to. Winning the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich is easy. ‘Anthony’ could do it. Winning the Champions League is not and without Messi at his disposal, it seems that Pep, cannot.