Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side remains one of the greatest in footballing history.
The ex-Spain international inherited the job in 2008 and, in the process, gained ownership of a quite remarkable starting XI. He went onto accumulate an astonishing 14 trophies in just four seasons at the Nou Camp.
Xavi and Andres Iniesta formed arguably the finest midfield partnership of the 21st century, patenting and mastering tiki-taka. Meanwhile, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique formed a herculean centre-back pairing.
The pièce de résistance was undoubtedly Lionel Messi, however.
Despite his unbelievable talent being abundantly clear under the wing of Frank Rijkaard, it was alongside Guardiola that he was propelled to stardom.
Their final season together saw Messi shatter world records with a breath-taking goal tally of 73 to eclipse Gerd Muller. Furthermore, both of Guardiola’s Champions League wins featured final goals from his star man.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget that the manager and player that went separate ways as superstars in 2012 had a lot to prove in their first training session in 2008.
Messi, after all, was freshly emerging from the shadow of Ronaldinho who had accumulated two Ballon d’Or awards during his time at the Nou Camp. Besides, the Argentinean phenomenon was just 21-years-old.
And to accommodate for this, Guardiola made a conscious effort to not speak about Messi in his very first press conference in the job.
The Manchester City boss was more than aware of the unrivalled potential of his young forward but was keen to divert attention elsewhere.
In an interview with FourFourTwo, Guardiola reminisced: “When I arrived to Barca, in my first press conference, I tried to say in that period I had a special player like Messi.
“Afterwards, I discovered he was the best player I had ever seen ever, but I didn't want to put the pressure on his shoulders.”
Guardiola’s recollection goes to show the attention to detail he showed in developing Messi at Barcelona.
It certainly paid off with Barcelona romping their way to an unprecedented treble. Messi ended the season with a famous headed goal against Manchester United to down his rival Cristiano Ronaldo in Rome.
And it was Guardiola’s eventual decision to deploy Messi in the false nine position that transformed him from a mercurial winger to a prolific goal scorer.
The rest, as they say, is history.
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