Pep Guardiola cannot complain. He had Lionel Messi’s magic for
four formidable seasons at Barcelona.
On Wednesday night, the Catalan coach was on the receiving end of the Argentine’s astonishing abilities for the first time. The monster he helped create chewed up his best-laid plans.
But he won’t have been surprised. In the build-up to this tie, Guardiola said: “When he plays like this, there is no defence that can stop him. It’s impossible. He is used to players defending against him any way they can and he always ends up enjoying success. He is too good.”
He could very well say the same after the game. As usual, Messi was too good. At this level, games are decided by the very best – and Messi is just that. “There is no more player complete than Leo,” Guardiola once said. “He is the best at everything.”
During his time at Camp Nou, Pep always admitted his side would be a shadow of themselves without the Argentine among their ranks. “We would be a very good team and we would be competitive,” he stressed. “But we wouldn’t have won all that we have.”
Too true. Pep won 14 out of 19 titles at Barca – including six out of six in his first year. Meanwhile, Guardiola’s great work at Bayern has seen back-to-back Bundesliga championships claimed with relative ease, yet the Catalan coach was expected to turn the Bavarians into Europe’s
elite team – which they were before his arrival as they won the treble and brutally beat an out-of-sorts Barca en route.to the Champions League crown.
Now, that dream lies in tatters – and it’s all because of Messi.
The 27-year-old was well marked for much of the game, but as his rivals tired, he pulled the trigger: first, he lashed home an thunderous drive from the edge of the box that not even the brilliant Manuel Neuer could save; then he ran into the box and beat the Germany goalkeeper with an exquisite chip from a tight angle for the second. It was unstoppable –
just as Guardiola had said.
Neymar’s late third – from an assist by his Argentine team-mate, naturally – means this tie is now all but over. In the end, it has not been settled – or so it seems at least – by tactical nous, but by Messi’s magic.
“Guardiola was right, I knew an inspired Messi would be impossible to stop,” Gerard Pique told Canal Plus after the game. And his former coach added: “I said Messi was unstoppable? That’s how it is. You have to try and give him as little space as possible. But when he plays like that, there is little you can do…”
Guardiola benefited so often from such fantasy football at Barca, like in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League triumphs, the semi-final success against Real Madrid en route to the latter and many, many more. This time, however, he has to grin and bear it.
And on the night of his emotional return to Camp Nou, Pep’s words proved prescient. Just as Guardiola had said, nothing and nobody can stop the Argentine on this form – and there is no shame in that.
Bayern are brilliant, their coach remains the world’s finest and their tactical plan frustrated Barca for much of the match, but in the end, Messi was just too good.