With their second UEFA Champions League title in three years, added to their three consecutive Liga championships the players guided by Joseph Guardiola have demonstrated in times where results are more important than playing nice, that it is not an utopia to play flashy and still manage to win titles.
When Dutch Frank Rikjaard’s five-year cycle as head coach of F.C. Barcelona came to an end with the 2007-2008 season, the Spanish media began to speculate with the arrival of Portuguese Jose Mouirinho to lead the new project. After a successful passage through Oporto and Chelsea, Mourinho had all the credentials of a winner, but former Barcelona President Joan Laporta wasn’t convinced that his profile would fit in the philosophy of the club.
Instead, Laporta decided to take a risky move by hiring a man of the house, Joseph Guardiola, former club player and head coach of Barcelona B. Feeling the support of the president on his side, Guardiola followed Laporta’s line too and decided to make a risky move as well: resign to Brazilian star Ronaldinho and choose Argentinean Lionel Messi as the head cornerstone of his project.
As a player Guardiola was part of the most glorious generation in the history of the club, which became known as the Dream Team. That squad coached by Dutch Johan Cruyff won four La Liga championships in a row and one UEFA Champions League title displaying a top-class game that awakened the admiration from the world between 1990 and 1994.
Finding another generation of players that could take the game to such exquisite levels was something that many thought was impossible, especially in times where tactics and money overshadowed the essence of the game: having fun. But Barcelona had been working ahead of time aware of how hard it was going to be to find a group of players to build another Dream Team, and through La Masia -their youth academy- they began to inculcate the philosophy of the club on young prospects that we’re called to be the future of the club.
That philosophy consisted in keeping the possession of the ball, in trying to keep the ball for no more than one to two touches, always passing it around from side to side until one of them had a clear shot. It consisted in making fans vibrate through amazing collective plays, in always controlling the initiative of the game, in understanding that the best defense is to attack, but above all in having a good time while doing so.
With eight players in their starting 11 raised in the La Masia -Messi, Gerard Pique, Victor Valdes, Xavi Hernandez, Pedro Rodriguez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquests and captain Carles Puyol-, added to his background, Guardiola began his first adventure as coach in La Liga with the Dream Team as role model.
The equation worked out better than expected for him, since in his debut year the team won the six titles that it disputed, which included the prestigious UEFA Champions League. The next year they secured another La Liga title and made the promise to their fans of making it to the Champions League final next year to be disputed at Wembley. And that was exactly what they just did this past Saturday after having won their third La Liga crown, the team stood true to their word and made into Wembley.
The best of their game was seen there against a powerful Manchester United that seemed like the only team that could put an end to their hegemony, but like all of Barcelona’s rivals they ended up surrendered at their feet.
With goals from Pedro, Messi and David Villa they defeated Man U 3-1 and raised their fourth Champions League trophy in club history, and second under Guardiola’s orders, guided by a superb Messi that ended as the top scorer of the tournament for third season in a row, this time with 12 goals.
Despite the success Guardiola prefers the low profile and avoids comparisons with the Dream Team, but it is clear more that cleared that not even the most prodigious football mind could have dreamed a team like his. Now Guardiola’s Barcelona is the inspiration of all those clubs that had only focused in results, forgetting about the beauty of the game.