Saturday 16 December 2017

Messi can't be stopped - Guardiola

Bayern boss pays tribute to former pupil but isn't back at Nou Camp to 'pay homage'

Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola insists:
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola insists: "I've come here to win" as he returns to Barcelona for the first time (Getty Images)

Richard Martin

Pep Guardiola did not hide his emotions nor his new allegiances.

Tonight the Bayern Munich coach will return to the Camp Nou pitch that he graced as ball-boy, midfielder and then coach, the most successful in the club's history. As a player and a manager, he won three European Cups, six La Liga titles, four Spanish Cups and a European Cup Winners Cup.

He is not merely a symbol of Barcelona's football club, but also of Catalonia, whose parliament presented him with a medal of honour, whose independence he openly supports.

"But sitting back in his old chair in the Barcelona press-room, Guardiola made it clear that he is not living in the past.

"I'm not here for a homage," he declared. "I have always been treated well at my home, but we want to knock Barcelona out. It's fantastic to return, I have many memories after spending so many years here, and it is very special, but now I'm the Bayern coach.

"It's my job to ensure we play well here and in Munich, that's what we're going to try and do."

Juggernauts

These two juggernauts met in the Champions League semi-finals just two years ago, Bayern eviscerating the Catalans 7-0 on the way to winning the treble, but the presence of Guardiola magnifies the tie's significance for both sides. His teams inspire awe, and so does he.

"He offers so many answers and almost all of them are correct," said Andreas Iniesta.

Bayern player Javi Martinez said "I feel like I know much more about football after working with him," while Lionel Messi, the talisman of Guardiola's trophy-laden tenure, added: "I have kept everything I learned from him."

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, a former team-mate of Guardiola's, tried to play down the significance of his return, saying "It's nice for the players to meet Guardiola again, but they know that this game is more important than just that."

But Carles Rexach, assistant coach to Johan Cruyff when Guardiola was a player, had a different view, saying: "It will be difficult for everyone involved, and most of all for Pep, who is returning to his first love. But also for our fans, who adore Pep for everything he gave us. It will be a bath of contradictory sensations for everyone in the stadium."

The man himself made it clear where his loyalties lie, saying: "This is not a normal game for me but I'm here to do my job. I know what we have to do and I'm not distracted."

A German journalist asked if he will celebrate a Bayern goal.

"I don't know what I will do, but I haven't decided to not celebrate out of respect out of Barca. If my boys score I will feel very happy and I want to win, Barcelona is a very important part of my life, up to now it has been everything, but I've come here to win."

Guardiola's happy demeanour was a far cry from one of his last appearances in the Camp Nou press-room in April 2012, when, days after being knocked out of the Champions League by Chelsea, he announced he was leaving the club, declaring: "I have given everything to the point that I feel empty. The high demands of this club wear you out."

At the end of four years at Barcelona, Guardiola was thinner in body and in hair. He was burned out by a combination of the pressure he was placed under and the pressure he placed on himself.

His relationship with the board and president Sandro Rosell did not help matters. Rosell never loved Guardiola because he was appointed by his nemesis and predecessor Joan Laporta.

A year after leaving, Guardiola made his views on Rosell public in a tirade, accusing Rosell of trying to drive a wedge between him and his former assistant Tito Vilanova, who passed away from cancer last year. "I told them I was going 6,000km away and asked them to leave me in peace, but they haven't kept their word," he screamed.

Rosell has gone, but much of the old board remain, including Rosell's vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, now the president. Bartomeu said he will welcome Guardiola back but did not overdo the praise, saying: "Pep should get the reception he deserves but it should be spontaneous. We won't organise anything. He comes here with a lot of history, but to try and beat us."

That mission is made harder due to Bayern's injury crisis. Holger Badstuber, David Alaba, Franck Ribery and top scorer Arjen Robben are all out, while Robert Lewandowski will wear a facial mask after breaking his nose and cheekbone a week ago. Martinez and Thiago Alcantara will play but have only recently returned from serious injuries.

When asked if he would use these losses as an excuse should his team lose the tie, Guardiola's expression changed, his smile gone, replaced with a glare.

"If we complained we wouldn't be Bundesliga champions. If Barcelona win it will be because they deserved to. I have never complained about injuries and I am not about to do it now," he said.

He was similarly frank when asked what he had planned to stop Messi.

"In the state he has been in the last four or five months he is too good, there's no defensive system, no coach, that can stop him. Of course, you can try and get close to him, put the brakes on him, but talent of that magnitude cannot be defended against." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Barcelona v Bayern Munich, live, RTE2, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

Irish Independent

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