Guardiola has come a long way in 18 years
Eighteen years ago today, on Dec. 16 1990, a 19-year-old midfielder made his debut for Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona dream team in a Primera Liga match against Cadiz.
Pep Guardiola, who picked up a yellow card that day as the Catalans won 2-0, has come a long way since then, carving out a distinguished career both for Barca and the Spanish national side before taking over as coach at the Nou Camp from Frank Rijkaard at the end of last season.
The dapper Guardiola, who cuts a reserved yet assured figure, immediately stamped his mark on the squad, junking the under-performing Ronaldinho and the unwanted Deco, and bringing in the dynamic Daniel Alves and midfield pair Aleksandr Hleb and Seydou Keita.
He has restored the discipline, professionalism and team spirit to the club and the results are there for all to see: a lead of eight points at the top of the table, 46 goals in 15 matches with only nine conceded and, best of all, a 12-point advantage over champions Real Madrid.
In their last three league matches, Barca have dismissed three of their closest rivals with uncanny ease — 3-0 at Sevilla, 4-0 at home to Valencia and 2-0 in Saturday’s “Clasico” at the Nou Camp against Real Madrid.
This without the creative midfield talents of Spain international Andres Iniesta, who has been out for six weeks with a thigh strain but may return as soon as Sunday’s match at Villarreal.
After such an explosive start to the season, and with confidence and expectations sky high, anything but a Champions League, Primera Liga and King’s Cup treble would surely be a disappointment.
PHOTO: Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola smiles during the news conference at the Nou Camp Dec. 12, 2008. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino