Scotland was the unlikely setting for the revelation of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona blueprint… and after defusing a row with new ‘false nine’ Lionel Messi, he transformed them into the greatest club side EVER (and inspired ‘a lot of love-making’!)
- Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona reign began with a pre-season camp in Scotland
- There, Lionel Messi was unhappy because he was made to miss the Olympics
- But Guardiola cleverly inspired his star man, as well as Thierry Henry
- Samuel Eto’o won Guardiola over – the new boss had originally wanted rid of him
- All his hard work culminated in glory – and a generation of ‘Iniesta babies’!
- READ: PART ONE of Sportsmail’s Special report on Pep’s greatest Barcelona side
There have been countless attempts at copying what Barcelona did from 2008 to 2012 under Pep Guardiola. Almost always, this dream of a brave new world misses one key point: before the passing there has to come the pressing.
In an interview in 2012 Dani Alves, one of Guardiola’s first and most important signings, spoke about Barcelona’s unmatchable work rate. ‘I never thought that a team could press the ball for 95 minutes as we do here,’ he said.
‘That is the thing that most surprised me. That is the way that Pep makes Barcelona play. He convinces great players that they have to play with this high tempo. It’s his greatest virtue.’
Pep Guardiola laid out the blueprint for his Barcelona team at a training camp in St Andrews
Guardiola made clear how he expected the entire team to put in the hard yards to play his pressing game – but the likes of Thierry Henry (centre) bought into his vision despite the graft
Much of that convincing took place at St Andrews in Scotland on the team’s pre-season training camp.
Barcelona were a side of brilliant players who had already won top prizes and yet Guardiola convinced them to run as if their careers were stretched out in front of them with everything to prove.
The legendary ‘five-second rule’ of winning the ball back as soon as it was lost, was implanted on those bright July days in Scotland in 2008.
Guardiola wanted the pitch squeezed. He wanted opposing teams pinned into their defensive third. For that to happen, the Barcelona defence had to sit high. And for the defence to sit high, the forwards had to be high too, stretching the opposition and forcing them back.
The five-second rule only mattered if you were winning the ball back in your opponents’ defensive third. The forwards were key.
‘The first person to apply the pressure is our best player, Messi,’ said Alves. ‘That pressure is the starting point for an entire concept: to be a great team you need to have everybody willing to go hunting for the ball. And you do it for each other.’
Messi arrived at the training camp in Scotland feeling unhappy about missing the Olympics
Messi had since admitted that he was moping around the training camp due to his displeasure
Perhaps the battle to persuade Messi to run like never before was won by Pep when he fought for the Argentine teenager to go to the Olympics that same summer.
The Games began on August 8 in Beijing. Messi’s participation meant he would not be available for Barcelona’s Champions League qualifier against Wisla Krakow.
At first, it looked grim for Messi. President Joan Laporta fought the Argentine Football Association and with the help of the Court of Arbitraion in Sport won his battle – Messi would not go.
Feeling like he was missing the opportunity of a lifetime, Messi moped around pre-season training. ‘I was unbearable, letting them know if I couldn’t go this would be how I was going to be’, he has said in subsequent interviews.
He was in constant contact with his international team-mates already in China, telling them not to give up hope that he would be able to join them. Finally he was granted permission, all thanks to Guardiola.
He tells TyC Sports in Argentina: ‘Everyone said that it was so special and different and it really was a beautiful experience. Guardiola was phenomenal with me.
‘No one wanted me to go; he was the one that gave me permission after a [pre-season] friendly against Fiorentina.
He said to me: ‘You want to go don’t you? Well you’ve got my permission. The only condition is that a member of our staff goes with you to look after you’.’
Guardiola had won Olympic gold himself at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He knew how it important it could be. Messi accepted the chaperone deal and off he went, coming back with gold and raring to go for the season’s start.
Another forward who would be especially important in the pressing game that Guardiola wanted was Samuel Eto’o – one of three players Pep had told Laporta he would prefer to be sold.
The other two, Deco and Ronaldinho, had gone but Eto’o had the pre-season of his life, determined to make a point and after some lobbying from two team captains in Carles Puyol and Xavi, Guardiola changed his mind.
But Guardiola fought Messi’s corner – he went to Beijing and won Olympic gold with Argentina
Guardiola (second left) understood the allure of the Olympics – he won gold back in 1992
Graham Hunter reports in his book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World: ‘Guardiola sat Eto’o down and told him: “I like your work-rate. I value your pressing. If you play and train like you have been then you stay.”
So on the opening day of the 2008-09 league campaign Guardiola had Messi happy, Eto’o fired-up, and Thierry Henry also ready to embrace the demands on the front three.
But with all three in the team Barcelona lost their opening game of the season 1-0 to Numancia and then drew 1-1 at home to Racing Santander. One point from a possible six had supporters doubting and put Laporta under pressure for having gambled on inexperience.
Not everyone panicked. Laporta kept his head, doubtless further encouraged to do so by Cruyff, his great friend and at the time a columnist for Catalan paper El Periodico.
He wrote after the second game: ‘I don’t know which game you saw, but I saw one of the best Barcelona performances I had seen for years.
Cruyff had been offered the chance to mentor Guardiola before the start of the season, effectively managing while the younger man coached and learned the ropes. He had defiantly declined insisting that Guardiola was ready. He still believed.
After a shaky beginning in LaLiga, Guardiola received valuable backing from Andres Iniesta
Guardiola was won over by Samuel Eto’o as well – he initially wanted to get rid of the striker
Andres Iniesta was another who never thought for a moment the magical pre-season, in which the Spain internationals returning from having won the Euros were blown away by the transformation in Barca’s training, would not lead to a superb campaign.
Writing in Iniesta’s biography: ‘The Artist’, Guardiola recalled being sat in his basement office at the Nou Camp after the disappointment of the Racing draw when ‘a small figure poked his head around the door, and spoke calmly. “Don’t worry boss, We’ll win it all. We’re on the right path. Carry on like this, okay.”‘
Iniesta’s intervention stunned Guardiola. The quiet man of the Barcelona dressing room added: ‘We’re in f***ing great shape, we’re playing brilliantly. This year we’re going to steamroller them all.’
In the lead up to Barcelona’s 6-2 epoch-defining win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in Guardiola’s first season, there were doubts.
It was all well and good playing the best football anyone had seen in Spain for years but could it be sustained over the course of a season?
The gung-ho ‘you score three, we’ll score four’ approach had come unstuck at the start of March when it was Atletico Madrid who scored four, beating Barcelona 4-3.
That result, coupled with Real Madrid’s win over Espanyol the same weekend, meant that Barca’s lead at the top was cut to just four points. It had been 12 points, back when Bernd Schuster was sacked after 14 games and Juande Ramos put in charge at Madrid.
In May 2009, Barcelona recorded a landmark result in a 6-2 triumph at Real Madrid
It was the first time that Messi had been deployed in the ‘false nine’ role under Guardiola
The new coach had set Madrid on a fine 18-game unbeaten run. They were still clashing cymbals and clanging gongs compared with the Barca orchestra, but they were getting results, and a home win in the second Clasico of the season would cut that gap at the top to one point.
The game was sandwiched between two Champions League semi-final legs. At the Nou Camp Barcelona had already drawn 0-0 with Chelsea and just four days after this meeting with Real Madrid they would have to play the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
There can be a fine line between all and nothing in Spanish football. So often Clasicos make or break seasons in 90 minutes. On a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon Barcelona became the first team in 50 years to put six past Real Madrid at home and the doubts disappeared.
They moved into a seven-point lead with four games left. La Liga was in the bag and they could focus on Chelsea. But it was more significant still because it marked a key moment for Messi.
When the team-sheets were passed along the rows of reporters in the Bernabeu press box there didn’t seem anything unexpected about Guardiola’s XI. Victor Valdes in goal behind Dani Alves, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Eric Abidal. Yaya Toure in midfield flanked by Xavi and Andres Iniesta. And Thierry Henry alongside Samuel Eto’o and Messi up front.
Messi’s position and movement caused havoc for Real, who didn’t know how to track him
Messi scored twice in the match as Barcelona recorded an emphatic win over their rivals
But from the first kick it was clear Messi was playing as a No 9, or ‘false nine’ as it would be known. ‘Fake nine’, Henry liked to call it. The greatest player in the world had been brought in from the right flank, his usual starting position, and played in a central withdrawn position between Henry and Eto’o – two of the greatest centre-forwards in recent history displaced to accommodate a new chapter in Messi’s evolution.
‘Pep called me the day before the Clasico and told me to come to the training ground,’ Messi explains in the documentary ‘Take The Ball, Pass The Ball’.
Messi had often drifted in-field in games and Henry and Eto’o were no strangers to running the channels, but now it was the game plan, not a variation.
Real Madrid were certainly not expecting it. With Eto’o and Henry running between the Real Madrid centre-backs and the Real Madrid full-backs, they were occupying the back four and Messi was, in effect, free to play just in front of them.
The centre-backs did not know whether to come out and close him down or let him have the ball. They tried the first of those options on 14 minutes and he played in Henry who ran in behind Sergio Ramos and scored.
Henry scored twice, Messi twice and centre-backs Pique and Puyol, while not able to prevent Madrid scoring from two headers, did both get goals themselves.
Henry was man-of-the-match. The brace took him to 26 goals in all competitions. He had embraced the Guardiola way even when it meant giving up what he had been for the best years of his career – the nine who led the line.
It was Thierry Henry who was the man-of-the-match – he scored twice from the flanks
But the game is remembered for Messi’s performance in a new position Guardiola devised
‘That team had a lot of guys who were kings in their country,’ Henry says in Take The Ball, Pass The Ball, explaining the audacity of telling a player who is used to being the focal point of the team to spend 90 minutes making runs to open up space for other players. That is what he and Eto’o were now doing. Their sacrifice brought the best out of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. And he loved doing it.
‘The ref was blowing the whistle and I was like: “Already?” I didn’t want the game to end,’ he says of the way playing for Pep made him feel.
Barcelona drew their next game at home to Villarreal but it didn’t matter. The 6-2 had destroyed Real Madrid. They lost their next two and Barcelona were crowned champions.
What had started in defeat – that 1-0 to Numancia – was ending in style. It demonstrated that this Barcelona side were getting better and that no rival, and no stage, would stop their march to domination. They had travelled a long way from the 4-1 defeat a year before.
This story should really end in Rome at the Champions League final with Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Manchester United and a thumping Messi header to seal the game and the La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble.
Instead it will end in a small apartment in Barcelona during lockdown this month and a video call. Ignacio, 10 years old, is the surprise recipient of that call. For Ignacio owes his life, in some ways, to Andres Iniesta.
Amidst all the euphoric highs experienced that year, as Barcelona were moulded into Guardiola’s image, one stands out in club folklore. It is Iniesta’s Champions League semi-final goal at Stamford Bridge. To recap, the first leg at the Nou Camp was 0-0. At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea took an early lead through Michael Essien. Then came the controversy.
Two reasonably clear penalties for Chelsea were dismissed by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo. Then Eric Abidal was sent off on 66 minutes. Another penalty claim, a seemingly clear handball by Gerard Pique was denied. Barca were merely hanging on and on their way out when Dani Alves surged down the right in the third minute of injury time. His cross was flicked away by John Terry.
That should have been enough, but Essien slightly mis-controlled a clearance out and the ball fell to Messi. Suddenly the ground was understandably alive with fear. Messi, on the edge of the area, slipped the ball to the incoming Iniesta, who drove it into the top corner.
Iniesta sparked wild scenes in London and Barcelona with a late goal against Chelsea
Iniesta’s strike sent Barca into the Champions League final and caused a baby boom
Pandemonium broke out. Led by a prancing Guardiola, the Barca bench cleared out to the corner flag to join the celebrations. Iniesta, initially twirling his yellow shirt above his head, was now buried underneath a pile of bodies.
In the cramped press box, Catalan radio commentators were on their feet screeching: ‘GOL! GOL! GOL! GOL! GOL!’ Unfortunately for them the media area is located alongside Chelsea fans, some of whom were now trying to get in to administer their own retribution.
Police became involved and wanted to caution the commentator until a robust intervention by a veteran British journalist reminded them of the law and who was actually breaking it. Even after that there was time for another penalty call for Chelsea, unreasonably denied.
That goal perhaps symbolises the joy of that season more than any other. It also illustrates the thin line there still was between being the world’s greatest team or just a very good one. Over two legs against Chelsea, they were tested to the full.
In Rome, against United, other than the opening nine minutes, they were utterly dominant and growing into their identity as something almost sublime.
The 2009 Champions League final win over Man United is remembered for Messi’s header
Messi pictured in jubilant celebrations with Guardiola after their Champions League triumph
Two years later at Wembley, the extraordinary manner in which they took United apart in 3-1 win at the 2011 Champions League final would confirm their status.
‘How much have you simply come up against one of the all-time great teams?’ Sir Alex Ferguson was asked as his first question in the press conference after the 2011 Wembley game.
‘I think that’s obvious,’ said the man who had stood on the terraces at Hampden Park to watch Alfredo Di Stefano’s Real Madrid demolish Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in 1960 to win their fifth successive European Cup, perhaps the previous zenith of club football.
By 2011 Barca had fully matured into their role as world’s greatest team and were virtually unplayable. In 2009, there were still growing pains. A penalty award or closer control by Essien might have stunted their development.
Maybe that is why the Iniesta goal has its own moment in Barca history and its own name: El Iniestazo.
Two years later, Guardiola was celebrating another Champions League win over United
It was an extraordinary night in Barcelona. Crowds flocked to the Caneletes fountain on Las Ramblas in an outpouring of euphoria. This was a time when the 2008 economic crisis was devastating Spain. In the post-match celebrations, Pique joked: ‘There will be a lot of love made in Barcelona tonight.’
It turned out he was right. Nine months on from that night, there was a spike in the birth rate in Catalonia. ‘We are up from an average of nine to 10 births a day to 15 a day’ said Mercedes Rodriguez, head midwife for the city’s Quiron Hospital in 2010. The babies were known as Iniesta’s children.
So earlier this month, on the anniversary of that goal, May 6, Iniesta, now living in Kobe, Japan, wanted to acknowledge his surrogate children and made some calls to two 10-year-olds, Ignacio and Josep Enric, both apparently conceived in the celebrations of that night.
‘Has your mum shown you the goal?’ Iniesta asks Ignacio, born on 18 January 2010. ‘Of course!’ said a delighted and star-struck Ignacio.
Ignacio’s mother, Andrea Barri, discovered she was pregnant just before travelling to Rome to watch the Champions League final but didn’t tell her family until they were on the flight, in case they tried to dissuade her from going.
In Rome, the treble would be secured. The Spanish Super Cup and the UEFA Super Cup would be won in August. And in December they added the World Club Cup, a sextuple in Abu Dhabi.
In tears, Guardiola would dedicate that trophy to Evarist Murtra. ‘He was the one who insisted to the directors that I should get the job,’ said Guardiola.
But in truth, there were a number of midwives to the birth of the greatest team.
Source: Read Full Article