Pep Guardiola-Lionel Messi. Together they were the perfect marriage. Mutual affection and admiration. Once separated, respect was maintained, but the man of her dreams turned into a nightmare for the coach.
The UEFA Champions League 2021/22 It is the excuse for a new reunion of one of the most successful couples in the history of football.
BARCELONA-GUARDIOLA-MESSI: THE OLD GOOD TIMES
It all started when Leo was still a promise from La Masía.
“They had already told me, ‘there is one in the quarry who scores a lot of goals and plays very well, even though he’s very small.’ I had never seen it. I remember seeing him one day at the Nike store with his father and I wondered ‘is this that so good they say?’ But then it takes two seconds. You see him from the bench, forty meters from the area, take the ball and think, know, that he will score a goal. There’s no more”, Guardiola recalled in an interview.
Leo’s career began professionally in 2004, when Pep was traveling the final stretch of his in Mexico. Life and football only brought them together on June 17, 2008, when Guardiola took over as Barcelona coach, replacing Frank Rijkaard.
The DT confessed that already in the first preseason in Scotland “I thought, with this we win everything.” And he was not wrong. In four shared seasons, they won 14 titles (2 UEFA Champions League, 3 Leagues, 2 King’s Cups, 3 Spanish Super Cups, 2 UEFA Super Cups and 2 Club World Cups). The first year finished with a treble and they achieved the historic sextet in 2009/10. That Barcelona led by Guardiola and starring Messi – of course, surrounded by other stars such as Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta – became what many consider the best team in history.
Pep never tires of repeating that Messi is the “best player I’ve ever seen. “
And Leo returned the compliments. In September 2012 it said: “Guardiola changed everything. We had two years without winning, with a wardrobe that was bad, sad. Pep is very intelligent, not only to prepare for the games but also to talk to you and get the message to you. You entered the game knowing what you had to do, what was going to help you to do better, you knew how the opponents moved … it prepared us to come out well from behind and attack. And that for those of us who like to play is beautiful. “
It was the most successful three years, 10 months, and 18 days of their careers. In which both claim to have helped each other grow. Guardiola turned Messi from winger into a “false 9” (Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic assures that it was the Argentine who imposed the DT to be a center forward, displacing the Swede) and scored 211 goals in 219 games, with an incredible 0.96 goals average. But the Catalan DT did not tie Rosario to a position either and that was how he also assisted in 290 of the team’s 638 goals in that period.
Pep brought out the best Messi of all, crowned with four Ballons d’Or (of the six he won). And the coach was recognized by FIFA as the best in the field in 2011, an award he only achieved once in his career.
They were happy times. In those who went from being like father and son, as reflected in many of the photos together, to being a couple, to being on a par. The two grew, were empowered, reached the top (although in the case of Messi, it was not his ceiling yet) and on May 5, 2012 it was time to separate. Guardiola needed new challenges. But football was going to bring them back together, albeit from opposite paths.
MESSI, FROM PEP’S SLEEP TO NIGHTMARE
After a sabbatical, the coach accepted in January 2013 the position in the German giant: Bayern Munich.
It took two seasons for Pep to return to the Camp Nou, for the first time as a visitor in the first leg of the 14/15 UEFA Champions League semi-finals. In front of him he had the club of his life and the footballer of his dreams: Leo Messi.
In the press conference prior to this meeting, Guardiola warned about the Argentine: “It cannot be stopped, it is impossible.”
Messi appeared in a dropper, but Barcelona dominated and in three minutes, Leo finished him off. In the 77th minute, he opened the scoring with a great goal and later dislodged Jerome Boateng en route to 2-0. And in the fourth minute of discount, he put the bow on with a counterattack and a masterful assist for Neymar to sentence the 3-0.
The rematch in Munich began favorable for the locals, but two plays started by Messi and assists by Luis Suárez, ended in Neymar’s double for the 2-1 comeback. Finally, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller rescued the victory for Bayern, but the passage to the final in Berlin went to Catalonia.
Messi 1, Guardiola 0.
A year later, they clashed again. On that occasion, with the technician in charge of the Manchester City and Leo, as always in Barcelona. Again, the first date was at the Camp Nou, by Group stage.
Messi returned to liven up the party with a “hat-trick” to return Pep and his citizens with a 0-4 to England.
In the second leg, Guardiola must have feared the worst when, at 21 minutes, the Rosario scored 1-0 in the context of a broad Barça dominance.
The coach was able to make his Manchester City wake up from the nightmare in the second half and Barcelona disconnected, made a mistake and paid with a 3-1 defeat.
In short, it was just 45 minutes in favor of Guardiola against four goals and a brilliant Messi in the remaining time in four games. All that a few years before Pep enjoyed the Argentine crack, now, in the opposite sidewalk he had to suffer it.
Messi 2, Guardiola 0.
2021: THE FIRST ENCOUNTER, WITHOUT BARCELONA IN THE MIDDLE
Many times, since the coach left Barcelona, there was speculation that he would manage Messi again. With the controversy of the burofax in 2020 it seemed that finally that reunion would become a reality in Manchester City, but it did not happen. And the same was believed this year, when surprisingly, the Catalan team had to let their idol go.
“I have incredible gratitude to the most extraordinary player I have ever seen. More than for the titles that he helped us win at FC Barcelona, for helping me, personally, to be a better coach, and helping me go to Germany and then to England ”.
“More than that is the incredible amount of emotions and feelings, and the incredible actions that make you stand in front of the TV, to see what he can do with the ball and his teammates in a soccer game. Day by day, game by game, every 3 days, he did something unique. I can only say thank you so much for taking Barcelona to another level, for leading Barcelona to dominate the world for a decade, him and his companions “, With these words, Guardiola greeted Messi, once his departure from the Catalan club was confirmed.
Qatari life and millions led Leo on a new and unthinkable adventure at Paris Saint Germain. And it is because of his presence in Pochettino’s team that many marked the date of the clash with Guardiola’s City on their calendars as one of the most attractive of the group stage of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League.
But reality lowers the price a bit for this new duel between two of the most admired characters in world football. Why?
For starters, because Messi has not yet been able to join his new team. He participated in three matches, of which he only completed one. The scorer place in PSG is for Neymar or Kilyan Mbappé. Leo plays more behind, either by the center or the right, as in the Argentine National Team, but still without being able to find prominence.
And is that Pochettino’s PSG is still unbalanced and suffers in defense. In Ligue 1, despite the mistakes, the individual quality is enough to win. But in his debut in the Champions, disappointed. The trident Messi-Mbappé-Neymar did not gravitate, Bruges managed to lead the Parisian team to their game and took an unexpected 1-1.
What to expect then against City? Although the English champion is not going through his best moment due to results and performance, it is a more rolling team. Guardiola knows that the personal brand can be useless to stop Messi and will surely choose to try to isolate him. A possession lover like Pep won’t let the ball get to Leo.
It is difficult to imagine that Manchester City gives up the initiative, something that PSG could do. In this scenario, of two teams still trying to settle into the new season and especially for Messi with little continuity and after a blow to the knee that marginalized him from the last match in France, the forecasts look more favorable for the Citizens.
The hope for those who are from “Team Leo” the hope remains that the “Messi of the Argentine National Team” appears, who did not seem to be affected by the bad moment of Barcelona or the shock of the change of home. And with an individual start you can reach the goal or facilitate it to your teammates.
The appointment is in the Park of the Princes, this Tuesday, September 28 and, no matter how they arrive, no one will want to miss if it will be 3-0 for Messi or if this time it will be Pep’s turn.