The world saw the genius of Leo Messi flower under Guardiola
And so the coach of the Blaugrana, the one who won in his four years every title that needed to be won, appears in his final match, the Copa Del Rey finals against Athletic Bilbao today. Josep “Pep” Guardiola comes full circle against a team whose 4-1 defeat gave Barcelona a triple crown and capped an extra-ordinary coaching debut for the 37 year old.
For someone who follows football closely the sight of the pencil slim Guardiola sheathed impeccably in black patrolling the sidelines was something of a given. That is because Barca was not far from our consciousness having become the defining team for many in this generation. All the big games in the world and they were there along with Guardiola, joined at the hip. It will be strange, perhaps unsettling to see him gone even if it is temporary.
This match won’t be the blowout it was four years ago. And it shouldn’t be. The Basques have to bring the best out of Barcelona and Guardiola because that is how managers are drawn back in, to the smell of a challenge, the lure of silverware, the high of adrenaline pumping at a hard fought match. We hope this match will leave enough pheromones for Guardiola to return sooner than later.
Marcelo Bielsa has a side that is replete with talent. Fantastic wingers in Markel Susaeta and Iker Munian. The centre controlled by the versatile Oscar De Marcos and Javi Martinez linking up with Fernando Llorente, a force of nature when in his element. Off the bench he can count on the impressive Ibai Gomez to support Llorente. The heart of defense looks suspect with Fernando Amorebieta, the weak link who was punished in the 0-3 loss to Atletico Madrid in the Europa Cup finals. In a twist they play the Copa finals at the Vicente Calderon, Atletico’s home grounds which could add extra impetus to their performance.
The Basques have won the Copa 23 times second only to Barca’s 25 titles. But the last one came in the now infamous 1983-84 finals when Diego Maradona faced off against Andoni Goikoetxea, the Butcher of Bilbao who had broken his ankle the previous year. The match was marred by brutal tackles and at the end a free for all broke out that resembled a UFC title fight.
This Bilbao side bears no resemblance to those pugilistic teams coached by Javier Clemente, the manager that Maradona never forgave. This Copa final will be finesse and precision, not brawn and power. The Blaugrana are sure to give Pep Guardiola a send off that he will remember. We have the makings off a classic and the subsequent outpouring off emotion that will move mountains. A perfect segue to the 2012 Euro just two weeks away.