From "Dream Team" to "Pep's Team"
If you took footballing cliche's literally then perhaps there is one that you shouldn't mention in Catalunya—"great players don't make great managers"—because this season one of the club's greatest players has thus far been proving that theory well and truly wrong.
Josep Guardiola is one of Barcelona's legendary players—a man born and bred only a few minutes walk away from the Camp Nou, he was a centrepiece of Johan Cruyff's wonderful "dream team", the metronome which kept the team ticking over.
His style of play was very much built on the passing game which Barcelona are famed for, and his superb passing range and style has subsequently inspired the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and Cesc Fabregas—all of whom have named "Pep" as one of their idols.
Yet now it is as manager of Barca that Guardiola is adding to his legendary status. His appointment at Barcelona was not met with unanimous support, as some people in Barcelona would have preferred Jose Mourinho as manager.
Yet his arrival as Barcelona manager is unerringly similar to his arrival as a player, a surprise—unheralded and unseen.
When he arrived in the Barcelona team from the youth sides, it was a shock but he made an immediate impact and his arrival seemed to signal a new era under Cruyff, as a manager his arrival is very similar, a shock selection, an immediate impact, and Barcelona fans will hope it heralds a new era.
Now, nine games in, Barcelona are sitting on top of the table, playing wonderful football, and now the team that Pep built is being hailed as "Pep's Team" by the Catalan press—a true sign of endearment.
How has he done it? Last season, Barcelona were a shambles, a team which had all the potential in the world but rarely (if ever) fulfilled it.
Frank Rijkaard failed to exert proper authority, allowing players like Ronaldinho and Deco to pick and choose their training sessions, and attempting to maintain the fluid system that had brought him so much success before, without enforcing any measure of discipline to enable the team to play as a team.
As such, Barcelona ended the season in shambles, with key players wanting to leave and Joan Laporta facing mounting criticism about his reign as chairman.
Yet now things are much different, Guardiola's appointment has brought stability to a club. Guardiola was a fan favourite, one of their own who represented them with distinction, a Catalan national hero who is adored by the masses. He was a man who knew the club top to bottom, and had spent last season managing the B team.
What Guardiola has done is play to the club's strengths. It sounds basic, but what he has done is shipped out many of the unruly elements from the team. Gone are Ronaldinho and Deco, two individuals whose influence was more detrimental than beneficial last season, while the influence of Henry and Eto'o has been severely reduced.
Guardiola has realised that Lionel Messi was the one player who could take his team to another level, he has made Messi the focal point of the team's attacking play and has been rewarded accordingly.
Messi's form is comparable with any player in the world at this time, and he has played a massive part in the team's free-scoring start to the season—28 goals in nine games.
Also Guardiola has utilised his knowledge effectively as he spent last season coaching the Barcelona B team. There he got to know the young players coming through their "cantera", and knows what these players can offer the team. He has not hesitated to use these players in the first team, and has been rewarded with some fine performances from players such as Busquets.
Barcelona have a long history of developing fine young players through their "cantera", Guardiola was one such player—and by promoting these players from within Guardiola is continuing one of Barcelona's finest traditions.
Finally, Guardiola has got Barcelona playing as a team. He has insisted on discipline, both on and off the pitch. The team play as a unit, both in attack and defence, a great change from last season where each seemed to be operating as separate entities.
He also insists on discipline off the pitch, imposing fines, insisting the team eat meals together, and altogether creating a more effective team unit.
As such Guardiola has been rewarded with some wonderful results, though it must not be underestimated about what his standing as a former player at Barcelona has allowed him. It has given him the freedom to effectively implement these changes without upsetting any of the fans, players or owners, and they in turn have been rewarded for believing in him with the club's magnificent start.
So we can see that Guardiola has made a magnificent start to his managerial career at Barcelona, but there are clouds on the horizon. El Classico is looming, and while Real Madrid are at this moment struggling, there is little doubting the quality which they have in their ranks.
While in Europe, Guardiola will realise that Barcelona are a massive club who have underachieved greatly in the European Cup, especially compared to their illustrious Madrid rivals (Barcelona—two wins, Real Madrid—nine wins). This will place pressure on him from the fans to emulate the great teams, which both Johan Cruyff and Frank Rijkaard built which each took the trophy.
After such a great start though, you cannot blame Barcelona fans from believing, their hero has returned, bringing with him the good old days of Barcelona's supremacy. While it may not be the "Dream Team" that Guardiola was part of, it's something else, its 'Pep's Team'.
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