BARCELONA, May 30, 2011 (AFP) - Lionel Messi may have been the inspiration behind Barcelona's 3-1 demolition of Manchester United in Saturday's Champions League final, but the achievement of coach Pep Guardiola off the field cannot be understated.
After a season with Barca’s youth side as his only real coaching experience he took on the demanding role of first team trainer in 2008 and has since won three league titles on the trot.
|AFP - Barcelona's players celebrate during a ceremony with supporters at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 29, 2011 a day after the team won the UEFA Champions League|
It was not as though he arrived at a club that was running smoothly, in fact, far from it. In the summer of 2008 the club was in upheaval.
After a successful run as coach, Frank Rijkaard lost control of the dressing room and had been dismissed.
Ronaldinho, the talisman for a side that had toppled the hegemony of Real Madrid’s ‘galacticos’ in Spain and returned Barca to the top of the European game by winning the Champions League title in 2006, had gone off the rails.
During the 2007-08 season he only attended a third of training sessions and stories were rife of his nightlife excesses.
He was not the only one as Deco and Rafa Marquez were also heavily criticised by fans and the media for their lack of commitment as the team slumped and Real won their second successive league title in 2008.
There were also problems in the board room as president Joan Laporta narrowly survived a vote of no confidence after those unhappy with his autocratic approach seized on the team’s poor performances to rally against him.
The appointment of the inexperienced Guardiola appeared a gamble but it worked out perfectly as he was brought up on the club’s football philosophy of quick-passing football and also had the necessary discipline.
He was the icon of Johan Cruyff's revolutionary ‘Dream Team’ of the early 1990s.
The Dutch tactician introduced a new style of attacking football with the emphasis on the movement of the team as a whole rather than individuals and they won four consecutive league titles and the European Cup at Wembley in 1992.
Seeking a new challenge, Guardiola moved to Italy in 2001 and it was there in particular that he learned the importance of preparation and discipline, which would serve him well later as a coach.
Despite the quality of the present side which has led many to wonder if it is the best of all time, Guardiola, thoughtful and modest as always, denies it will ever match up to the Dream Team.
"They were pioneers and we cannot equal that no matter how many trophies that we win. They were a side that ended a long barren spell in the club’s history.
Since then (Louis) Van Gaal, Rijkaard and I have all achieved things but this would not have been possible without them," said Guardiola.
The development of youth players at the now famous ‘Masia’ who could be integrated already knowing the system was another important element of Cruyff’s approach.
Since then there has been a steady flow into the first team including Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez but under Rijkaard and now Guardiola it has become a priority.
After his season as youth coach, Guardiola was well aware of the quality coming through and that they were ready.
These players like Sergio Busquets and Pedro along with being well trained were also aware of the need to be disciplined.
Guardiola has carried on the philosophy of Cruyff and was able to celebrate at Wembley where as a player he helped his mentor change the history of the club.
He knows, though, that despite the commitment to youth he is in charge of a unique group of players led by Messi, the like of whom perhaps we have never seen an equal.