Over the past week Lionel Messi’s 5-star performance against Bayer Leverkusen dominated the news, prompting critics, fans and pundits alike to debate whether La Pulga is the greatest player of all time. The mere fact that one even considers the diminutive Argentine to belong to the pantheon of all-time greats speaks volumes of his standing in the game – and he’s just 24 years old. But while Lionel Messi has at least 6 or 7 more years at the peak to confirm and cement his legacy as the world’s best, Culés worldwide are more interested in the intermediate future of his boss alias Pep Guardiola. Though it looks like forgone conclusion that Real Madrid will win La Liga, with FC Barcelona trailing Los Blancos by 10 points, every Culé wants the Santpedor-born manager to extend his reign at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona supporters have always been known to be quite pessimistic, they always expect the worst. However, during Pep Guardiola’s tenure, the average Culé has become a little less pessimistic and infinitely more joyful. While FC Barcelona have always been revered for their playing style, Pep Guardiola perfected the formula and the current Blaugrana team is now mentioned alongside the great teams of the past, Di Stefano’s Real Madrid, Johan Cryuff’s Ajax Amsterdam, Pele’s Brazil or Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan side. This FC Barcelona team is one of the greatest sides of all time.
Some critics are quick to dismiss Pep Guardiola’s achievements, attributing them to fortunate circumstances. After all, they say, he can count on the services of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and once-in-a-lifetime footballer, Lionel Messi. Although there might be some merit to those claims, they are surely not justified in its entirety. Sure, having a golden generation of footballers helps a lot but that by no means, should lessen the credit to the manager. It’s not like Frank Rijkaard didn’t have access to some of the world’s finest or couldn’t count on La Masia. He did, didn’t he?
Initially, culés were understandably a bit hesitant when it was first announced that Pep Guardiola would replace Frank Rijkaard as the manager of FC Barcelona. How couldn’t they? Pep’s first order of business was to get rid of Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o – the three key players that brought back joy to the shores of Catalunya. While Pep succeeded in removing the two Brazilian-born players, he was stuck with Samuel Eto’o, who turned out to be an integral component in accomplishing the treble in 2008/2009.
It is safe to say that Pep hasn’t made too many mistakes during his tenure, albeit a few costly ones. In retrospect, his assessment of Ronaldinho and Deco was spot on. Nevertheless, seeing Ronaldinho leave FC Barcelona was not the easiest thing to do for the fans. Judging by pure talent alone, he’s still better than most players who made the Ballon d’Or top 10 lists in seasons gone by. It is hard to find any player of the current era who can match or surpass Ronaldinho’s talent, with the exception of Lionel Messi.
At any rate, Pep was right. Still, that didn’t prevent him from making horrible mistakes too. The signings of Martin Caceres, Alexandr Hleb, Dymtro Chygryinski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic represent an astronomical sum of cash that could have been spent in a more wisely manner. And if that wasn’t horrific enough, allowing the African duo of Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure to leave will always be inexcusable, not to mention utterly mystifying. Samuel Eto’o is s a certified FC Barcelona legend and a success wherever he has played. Yaya Toure on the other hand is probably the best midfielder in the English Premier League after his teammate, and fellow La Liga export, David Silva. Selling Yaya Toure and buying Javier Mascherano, only for him to be deployed as a makeshift center back was not certainly the sign of a genius. Given the wall Yaya Toure is, he could have always been placed in the defensive line and his physical credentials too are superior to those of Mascherano.
But people, especially managers, make mistakes. At the end of the day the positives outweigh the negatives. And if we’re being honest, the only area where Pep probably needs to improve is signing players. But judging by the 2011/2012 transfer window he even nailed that one.
Just as some people suspect that Lionel Messi hasn’t peaked yet, one should also take into consideration that Pep Guardiola is still a relative novice when it comes to managing. He can only get better.
Life after Pep? Let’s not go there…
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