When Pep Guardiola was unveiled as the successor to Frank Rijkaard, anybody from outside Catalonia would not have been able to fully comprehend the reasoning behind Joan Laporta’s decision. However, the Barcelona faithful new the man, even if they did not know the manager, and were delighted with the appointment.
You see Josep Guardiola was always a player pinpointed as a future manager. Ever since he arrived at the Nou Camp, aged 13, his intelligence on the pitch and tactical play were clear to see. The youngster broke into the first team during the hugely successful reign of Johan Cruyff, making his debut in 1990. And two years later, he was winning the first of three consecutive league titles with Barca, as well as the European Cup, and playing an instrumental part in Spain’s Olympics triumph.
Guardiola was considered one of the best central midfielders in the world during his time at the Nou Camp
He went on to have yet more success at the heart of the midfield under Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal. Guardiola was reaching the pinnacle of his career, and Barca had rejected bids from AS Roma and Parma FC for his services. But as his footballing career in Spain drew on, he became plagued with injury, and eventually, in the new millennium, he moved to Italy where he played for Brescia and then Roma. After a short, if unhappy spell in Italy, Guardiola moved to Qatar to play for Al-Ahli; before seeing out his career with Mexican club Dorados al Sinaloa.
In 2008, Pep Guardiola reaped the rewards of the years of hard work he dedicated to his boyhood club, when he was announced as manager of FC Barcelona. The appointment was, however, an inside hire, as Guardiola was managing the FC Barcelona B team in the previous campaign. And that was where he first showcased his managerial prowess, leading the side to promotion.
Guardiola inherited Rijkaard’s Champions League winning side, and immediately commanded the respect of the players. Understanding the importance of a good dressing room, Ronaldinho was shipped to AC Milan, Deco was offloaded to Chelsea, and he began utilising the club’s much revered youth academy. Sergio Busquets was the first to thrive under his new found responsibilities, earning himself a place in the Spain squad.
Busquets was one of a handful of “B” team players to be promoted
The 2008/09 season started in disappointing fashion, however, as Barcelona suffered defeat on the opening day in the hands of newly-promoted Numancia. But the match was to be no indication as to the season which followed. A run of 20 league games unbeaten stood them in good stead to finish nine points ahead of fierce rivals Real Madrid, and clinch the title by doing so.
The 4-3-3 formation was working wonders for the Catalan side, with Xavi and Iniesta instrumental in weaving attacking moves. The front three of Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o were ripping defences to shreds. With the three of them scoring 19, 23 and 30 league goals respectively, Guardiola’s side were a force to be reckoned with. Barcelona put six goals past their La Liga opposition on five occasions, the most satisfying of which the 6-2 humiliation of Real Madrid in “El Classico”.
Their hugely admired free-flowing football led them to winning a clean sweep of all the trophies on offer to them, not only becoming Spanish champions, but also European champions, and world champions. The Champions League final against Manchester United was always going to be the ultimate test of how far they had come. Needless to say they passed with flying colours, simply outclassing the English club, and winning the match 2-0.
The Barca players hail their boss after the Champions League triumph
After winning the Copa del Rey to boot, Barcelona went on to achieve glory in the Supercopa de España, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. So how do you follow a sextuple in your first year in management? One thing is sure, Pep Guardiola will try. And in a summer in which Real Madrid’s massive spending made all the headlines, Barcelona retaliated. They brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan, paying a fee in the region of £30m, plus their top scorer from the previous season, Samuel Eto’o.
The first half of Guardiola’s second campaign at the helm of one of the world’s greatest club started in similarly impressive fashion. It wasn’t until February that they lost for the first time. And with 55 points from 22 games, and another victory over Real Madrid, it seems that Barcelona’s favourite son is thriving under his new found role as head of the household.