Barcelona journey into unknown with two-day road trip
It was no ordinary day at the Ambrussum service station just off the A9 heading through Nimes in southern France on Sunday when a certain Leo Messi ambled up to the bar, dropped his shoulder to swerve past a couple of long-distance lorry drivers and ordered a cafe au lait.
Messi and his Barcelona team-mates stopped off at the roadside cafe between Montpellier and Marseille on route to Cannes on the first leg of their 620-mile coach trip to Milan for tonight's Champions League first leg semi-final against Internazionale.
"Gudjohnsen has really done it to us this time," joked one player boarding the 3.0 team bus out of Barcelona on Sunday afternoon in reference to the Icelandic volcano that meant Barca's trip to Italy had to be brought forward almost 24 hours, depriving the players of a day with their families after Saturday night's hard-fought goalless draw against Espanyol.
Barcelona's 20-man squad boarded one 38-seater coach accompanied by club doctor Ricard Pruma and director Rafa Yuste. Pep Guardiola and his assistant, Tito Vilanova, were joined by various members of the club's technical and administrative staff in a second coach.
Traffic jams in Montpellier turned what should have been a six-hour journey into one of eight hours but, armed with iPods and dressed in club tracksuits as opposed to the business suits usually worn for Champions League trips, players arrived in Cannes at 10.30 on Sunday night before setting off again yesterday morning to complete the second leg of their journey.
On the players' coach, Al Pacino's American Football film 'Any Given Sunday' topped the cinema bill that also included the Clint Eastwood-directed 'Invictus'. And after the highly motivational tales of winning against all odds came something a little lighter, Spanish pin-up Paz Vega in Juan Calvo's comedy 'Di que si'
While his players enjoyed the work of Morgan Freeman and Cameron Diaz, Guardiola only had eyes for the performances of Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso. The Barca coach spent most of the journey watching videos of Inter Milan games.
Guardiola had likened the trip to those he endured the season before taking over as first-team coach at Barcelona.
As manager of the B-team, he shared many a bus journey with his players on route to winning the third division title. Though none would have involved stopping off at a €14,000-a-night hotel, that being the price of the Royal Suite at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes where the Barca squad broke up their two-day journey before arriving in Milan yesterday.
The Newcastle United team undertook a similar journey yesterday, although perhaps with a slightly less glamourous destination -- Plymouth -- for last night's Championship match. The team set off early in the morning for the seven-hour, 409-mile trip.