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FC Barcelona: Pep Guardiola and how he won over his critics

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Shut up critics!
Shut up critics!

Wednesday 11th May 2011. Not only was it the day Barcelona completed the treble of titles.

It was also the day Pep Guardiola won over his critics.

Futebol Club Barcelona started the seasons with serious doubts; or at least that’s how the media portrayed it. There were doubts surrounding the fitness of Xavi, Pep’s ability to overcome niggling injuries that plagued his squad, the much-maligned Ibrahimovic saga, the club’s problem with debt – which unsurprisingly has now either disappeared or cast into the background – and a whole host of people criticising the depth of the squad.

There was also the bizarre, yet seemingly universally-accepted claim (in the media/Madrid fan-sites), that the players who had just won the World Cup would "be tired" of winning, and the hunger that defined the previous two campaigns would be missing.

After all, it must get tiresome winning all these medals, and the acknowledgment of your peers?

Nevertheless, these were the claims, and, at one point or another, they all had to be dealt with over the course of the season. Fortunately, Xavi, overcame the problems, most spectators tend to forget Zlatan Ibrahimović is still contractually tied to FC Barcelona. And as I have pointed out earlier, the hysteria surrounding the club’s debt vanished, whereas the apparent lack of depth in Barca’s squad, became a lot more prominent issue.

But before we get there, let’s recap the opening day of the 2010/11 La Liga season.

First game for Barcelona was away at El Sardinero, to Racing Santander. It took a mere two minutes for most of the doubt to disappear. Some doubted the manager and his signings, but crucially, no-one doubted Messi.

messi vs. racing santander

A minuscule 155 seconds had passed of the new season, and he had lobbed the ball into the back of the net. So, after Barca won that match 3-0 and Mourinho-managed Real Madrid had drawn a blank on the holiday island of Mallorca, the doubt had disappeared.

The next week however, would see it flooding back, as the whole World took a sharp intake of breath.

Barcelona lost at home. Not only that, but to newly-promoted Hercules.

Guardiola was the idiota, the World Cup fatigue was back, Mourinho was not going to relent this lead, Lionel Messi considering a move to Accrington Stanley…most of those were plastered on the back pages of the daily papers.

Imagine the horror when Messi was viciously (but unintentionally) scythed down by the heathen that was/is Tomas Ujfalusi, the very next week no less!

Oh dear, Barca might have well have relinquished the title then!

Wait a second…they didn’t, and Pep Guardiola was the man behind all of it. He analysed his team, and made the necessary adjustments.

By the tie they faced Sevilla on Saturday 30th October, they were still under a lot of pressure, but I could sense it was the beginning of a new dawn for the Blaugrana. Not only had their performances been improving, but there was also a new Barcelona blog, I think it was called Barca Blaugranes…

All in all, it was that night that the tides turned. It was the first Manita of the current campaign, and the footballing masterclass that the Blaugrana produced, has since etched itself in folklore. Well, it was until everyone began to realise, this was not a one-off, this was just the beginning…

Barcelona travelled to Andalusia with the first Clasico on their minds. The opponents, UD Almeria. Not exactly the best side in the Primera Division, but Lillo and Guardiola were supposed to be friends, and an easy Blaugrana victory was expected. Not quite in this fashion though…

FC Barcelona defeated a hapless Almeria side 8-0, and were heading into El Clasico after equalling their highest ever away win. If this was how Guardiola treated his friends, what could we expect when he faced his enemies?

… …

Well…

Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid (2010) - GP Highlights

It was the Clasico to end all Clasicos, or it seems to act as a precursor to another four. As I watched the match unfold, the first Clasico to be played on a Monday in a long while, I was shaking. I wasn’t ill, just nervous, but as it turned out, I had nothing to be nervous about. The Blaugrana carved apart their illustrious rivals, with alarming ease, and produced, one of, if not THE best team performance ever to take the lead in the La Liga standings.

All this against a team that had spent a mind-boggling £300-plus million in the previous two seasons, which with "The Translator" Jose Mourinho in charge, was set up primarily to stop FC Barcelona’s stranglehold on La Liga and Europe. The outlay on players was outrageous, and the main sections of the media that doubted Barcelona were, unfortunately for me, English.

They were stating that with Mourinho in charge, and a "real" player who has performed on a wet and cold night at the Britannia, Cristiano Ronaldo, that FC Barcelona’s glory days were over. As it turned out, with a hint of luck for the Blaugrana, this was not a wet and cold night in Stoke. This was a mild autumn’s eve in the Pantheon that is the Camp Nou.

All the doubters silenced, the media that loved to criticise Barcelona silenced, and "the Translator" silenced.

For me, it was actually that day that Barca claimed the title, after all, how do you bounce back from such an assertive display of dominance, from your eternal rivals as well?

As it turned out, Mourinho had the opportunity to answer that question.

The World Series of Clasicos was upon us, and the world waited anxiously to see the answer that Mourinho had formulated. The answer however, had already been seen before. Mourinho set out his team to try and mimic his (in)famous victory over Barcelona with Inter Milan, and in doing so, he ultimately threw away the League title.

The normally-piranha like Marca did not bite, and pointed to the Copa, and crucially the Champions League as the real opportunity for success. They said the 5-0 defeat vindicated this, and when the Copa was won by an extra-time header from Ronaldo, the doubts, returned once again.

Mourinho will pull it off, Wembley here we come, the Madristas celebrated. Ramos, maybe too much ;)

But back at base, Guardiola was studying, watching videos, asking his team, how do we beat this? The attention to detail must have been phenomenal, but did it pay off?

Of course it did, and despite the sending-off of Pepe aiding the Blaugrana along the way, Guardiola had silenced his critics for the final time, Barca were off to Wembley!

And so we are back to Wednesday. Not a momentous performance by Barcelona, but the day was a historic one. Guardiola and his team had triumphed.

Without their inspirational captain, just like the majority of the season, with David Villa and Pedro still in the unrelenting grip of a scoring drought, Gerard Pique, with his head in "Waka Waka Land!" All the questions had been answered, in emphatic fashion of course, and only one remained.

It was not: Is this team better than the Dream Team?

Neither was it: Is Messi the best of all time?

The only question left was: Will Barcelona win the UEFA Champions League for the 3rd time in this still very young millennium?

From what I have been lucky enough to see, the only answer in my mind is yes.

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