FC Barcelona: 5 Players Who Have Improved Dramatically Under Guardiola
Josep Guardiola's man-management is legendary.
Every Barcelona fan remembers the video he showed the players 10 minutes before the Champions League final of 2009. His motivational skill and his ability to obtain the best-possible performances from his players have been two crucial factors in Barcelona's recent success.
Under Guardiola's leadership, a lot of Barcelona's players have achieved more than they could ever have hoped to. He is renowned for giving every player a chance to prove himself. His motivation and tactical changes have changed the fortunes of quite a few players in the squad.
Here, the players who have shown the most striking improvements under Guardiola's tutelage have been showcased.
Before: Considered the weakest link in defense.
After: One of the most secure left-backs in Europe.
The end of the 2008-09 season was one of Eric Abidal's worst periods as a Barcelona player.
Despite Barcelona's treble, he had little to celebrate, having missed the Champions League and Copa del Rey finals due to suspensions.
He was also riding a wave of criticism, and many fans had called for a replacement to be signed.
Despite signing Maxwell that summer, Pep Guardiola continued to start Eric Abidal as his first-choice left-back.
Abidal repaid this faith by showing the sort of improvement that is usually displayed by players a decade younger. By the middle of the 2009-10 season, his form made him look like a new signing.
The 2010-11 season continued in much the same vein, with Maxwell getting hardly any time because of Abidal's resurgence. He scored his first and only Barcelona goal against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey in the same year.
Though he was diagnosed for a liver tumor in early 2011, Abidal recovered from his surgery to play the full Champions League final against Manchester United, thus completing his cycle of redemption.
Before: A player who was about to be offloaded from Barcelona Atletic.
After: Part of the most frightening attacking trio in recent seasons.
One of Guardiola's first moves at the start of the 2009-10 season was to promote Pedro to full first-team status.
Before this, he had played in fits and starts for the first team and was primarily a B-team player. He was likely to be offloaded as surplus due to requirements.
Everything changed at San Mames, the home of Athletic Bilbao.
Pedro assisted Xavi for the first goal and scored the winner to play a huge hand in Barcelona's Supercopa victory.
In the same season, he became the first player in footballing history to score in all six competitions in a calendar year. He reached this landmark when he scored against Atlante in the semifinal of the World Club Cup.
Since then, Pedro has established himself as an almost automatic name on the team sheet.
He is a crucial part of the most lethal attacking trident in football, which includes Messi, Villa and himself. He has also averaged more than 50 appearances in the last two seasons.
Pedro's rise and rise from B-team reject to first-team regular has been influenced in no small part by Guardiola's immense faith in him, as is evidenced by this quote made by Pedro himself.
"It’s true that he decided to have confidence in me. I had doubts about whether I would continue with the team because of the circumstances, but the 'mister' arrived and had confidence in me. He told me that I would start with them and they would pay close attention to my development. I got my act together, continued working as always, and the truth is that everything turned out fine."
Before: A talented player who might make it big some day.
After: The next Fernando Redondo?
Sergio Busquets can be considered one of Pep Guardiola's biggest successes.
Guardiola promoted Busquets in his very first season as Barcelona manager, by virtue of his impressive performances at Barcelona Atletic earlier.
Busquets' big break came in the Champions League final of 2009, when Barcelona were missing first-choice defenders Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, prompting then first-choice defensive midfielder Yaya Toure to play as a centre-back.
Busquets started that match and put in a good performance to prove himself ready for first-team football.
In the next season, Guardiola started Busquets ahead of Toure for many matches, thus reinforcing his faith in the youngster. Busquets repaid this faith with a string of excellent performances throughout the year.
In 2010, when Toure was sold and Mascherano was bought, few could have envisioned Busquets holding onto his starting spot.
However, Busquets remains Guardiola's first-choice defensive midfielder to this day, and his style of play has drawn comparisons with former Real Madrid great Fernando Redondo.
Busquets' importance can be summarized by this quote made by Guardiola before the 2011 Champions League final:
"Busquets will be the first name on the teamsheet."
Before: A supremely talented midfielder.
After: Ballon d'Or candidate and World Cup hero.
Andres Iniesta was always an exceptional player at Barcelona.
However, before Guardiola's arrival, he rarely managed to grab the limelight in the way his more illustrious midfield partners Ronaldinho and Deco did.
When Guardiola offloaded both of those creative geniuses on his arrival at the club, a lot of responsibility fell on the shoulders of Iniesta. And that is when he truly came into his own.
Despite being injured for part of the 2008-09 season, Iniesta was instrumental in every trophy that Barcelona won.
The goal he scored against Chelsea will remain fixed in the memory of every Barcelona fan till the end of days. He also started the Champions League final despite having a muscle tear and put in a match-winning performance in midfield.
The season after that, he scored the goal that won Spain the 2010 World Cup, which elevated him to legendary status all over Spain.
Every stadium that Barcelona visited that season held a standing ovation in Iniesta's honor. He finished second in the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or voting, the new award which combined the earlier Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards.
Before: An amazing talent.
After: An unstoppable juggernaut and one of the best players in history.
Undoubtedly Guardiola's biggest success has been the way in which he has extracted match-winning performances week in and week out from Lionel Messi.
Even before Guardiola's arrival at the club, Messi was heralded as one of the best players in the world.
The way he cut in from the right wing made defenders quake in their boots.
However, Guardiola removed him from his position of comfort and thrust him into a new role especially made for a player of his talents.
He made Messi a "false 9"—the lone striker who plays deep, sometimes even in midfield.
Before playing in this new role, Messi scored at a steady rate, made a fair few assists and boggled minds with his runs.
After his shift, every statistic of his has skyrocketed to astonishing figures. He now averages more than 40 goals a season for the past three seasons, not to mention the 20 or so assists that he makes as well.
Another consequence of this singularly brilliant move is that Messi can aid the midfielders in providing the creative impetus needed for the team to score.
When he drops deep, his passing and vision—which are both comparable to Xavi's—becomes more prominent, and defenders get confused about whom to mark.
When people say that Guardiola has an easy job—he just has to ask his players to pass the ball to Messi—they couldn't be more wrong.
Guardiola's insistence to move Messi to the center of the pitch is what has made both Barcelona and Messi the forces that they are. And it is the move that has acted as a catalyst to Messi's entry into football folklore.