Pep Guardiola is looking forward to returning home after the Champions League semi-final draw pitted Bayern Munich against Barcelona.
There was an audible gasp at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon when the Spaniard’s current side were drawn against the club with whom he achieved so much as both player and manager.
Guardiola’s four-season spell at the Barca helm yielded 14 trophies, including two triumphs in the Champions League – something he will now look to deny them.
The eyes of the footballing world will be trained on the Nou Camp on May 6, when he leads Bayern out for the first leg of a tie which will decide who progresses to the Berlin finale.
Barcelona v Bayern Munich. Guardiola returns to Camp Nou. Best attack Messi/Suarez/Neymar versus best goalkeeper Neuer. Some game. #UCLdraw
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) April 24, 2015
“I knew it would happen sooner or later,” Guardiola said. “It’s my first return to Barcelona, my home. I was there as player, I was there as coach. Of course it is special for me, for Thiago (Alcantara, who also left Barca for Bayern), for my staff.
“I am very happy that I can experience this. It is a nice game, but not easy. Believe me, Barcelona are the strongest! I’m happy for Luis Enrique. He’s a great coach, a great guy, a great man.”
On a personal level, it will also be the renewal of an old acquaintance between two men who were team-mates at Barca between 1996 and 2001, and later worked together again for three years when Guardiola was the club’s manager and Enrique coached the B team.
Enrique said: “It will be special because it is Pep – the first time he’s faced Barca and the first time I’ve faced him. It will be a marvellous tie for fans of both clubs.”
Enrique rejected the suggestion that he would have preferred to avoid Bayern, given their form.
“I am always aware of how unlucky other managers are when they have to play against Barca,” he added. “If I coached another team, I wouldn’t want to play against us.”
Enrique also stood by his recent description of Guardiola as the best manager in the world, explaining: “I believe he is the best because of the titles he has won, and because I like the way that he’s done it, with attacking football.
“He’s also capable of adapting to another country, and speaking their language, which is very difficult, and transmitting his ideas.”
And he added: “And also because he’s my friend, and I always think my friends are the best!”
Yesterday’s draw also opens up the possibility of a first ever Barcelona v Real Madrid final.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side overcame city rivals Atletico to secure a fifth successive semi-final appearance, where Juventus will look to halt their quest to become the first side to retain the Champions League.
“At this stage of the competition, all of the sides are difficult,” former Juventus boss Ancelotti said. “Juventus is a club that have a legendary history and it is returning to a semi-final after 12 years.
“We need Real Madrid to be at their best to win, we need the same side that played against Atletico, with the same enthusiasm and hope. We have a lot of confidence.”
Juve board member Pavel Nedved believes the Bianconeri must not enter the tie thinking they are underdogs.
He said: “It’s crazy to talk about the opposition being better. We must play the same way we always have, we have a chance and they will be two fantastic matches.”
The Champions League draw is perfect for one man and one man alone: Luis Enrique.
For the next three weeks, the whole football world will become consumed by an obsession with Pep this, Pep that, Pep the other.
It has already started. The fact that Barcelona are playing Bayern Munich is almost an afterthought. The fact that Lionel Messi can seek revenge for the World Cup Final is being almost completely overlooked.
The fact that brothers Rafinha and Thiago Alcantara will be facing each other in a Champions League semi-final is barely getting mentioned.
Luis Enrique “I always think after the draw of the bad luck for whoever has been drawn to play against Barcelona.”
— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) April 24, 2015
Instead, this tie already is and will continue to be all about one thing and one thing only: Pep Guardiola. That is perfectly understandable.
During four wildly successful years in charge at the Nou Camp, Guardiola was responsible for creating one of the greatest
– quite possibly the very greatest – team the world has ever seen.
Under Guardiola, Barca were an absolute joy to behold. Their creativity, teamwork, precision and exuberance drew legions of admirers all over the world, mesmerised by the closest thing sport can ever provide to an artistic masterpiece worthy of comparison with the great masters.
What’s more, they won. A lot. This was a rare case of style and substance, as Guardiola amassed an outlandish total of 14 trophies in just four seasons, including three La Liga titles, two Champions League crowns and two FIFA Club World Cups.
The prospect, then, of the architect returning to take on his former team for the very first time, three years after his tearful departure, is undeniably captivating.
Guardiola going back to Barcelona is the thing every football fan wants to see and, in the build-up, the thing every media pundit wants to write about and talk about, and the thing every fan wants to read about and hear about.
This all means that Luis Enrique will be left in peace to quietly get on with his work, taking a background role while everybody else is busy focussing on Pep.
That’s just the way he wants it. Enrique does not like attention, does not seek the limelight and does not enjoy addressing the media. Rather than attempting to court public favour or engineer a particular personal profile, he expects people to take people as they find him. If they don’t like him, tough.
As well as allowing him to be left alone, the draw suits Enrique because he is – as much as a Barca manager could ever be – in a no- lose situation.
If Bayern win, it will be portrayed as Pep’s success rather than Enrique’s failure, minimising any potential fall-out from the tie. And once it’s all over, Enrique might just have sneaked almost unnoticed into a Champions League Final.
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