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.”