By Max Grieve
Pep Guardiola’s first league match, away at Numancia, was confusing in its lessons. Barcelona boasted 70 per cent of the possession, and had 26 shots – two of which smacked against the woodwork – but lost; Mario Martínez Rubio, simply Mario, scoring in Eric Abidal’s absence at the far post.
“We played badly,” admitted Guardiola. “We were undisciplined and people were not doing their jobs. You have to open the pitch when the opposition plays with 10 behind the ball and we did not do that. We did not attack well. It was our own fault, but we can correct the errors.”
A reaction to an unfortunate performance, not to take anything from Numanica, the Catalan media were up in arms – they usually are, such is their fanaticism. Johan Cruyff, in his column for El Periódico, was more patient. “I don’t know which game you saw, but I saw one of the best Barça performances in years. Football-wise, Barça were of the best. Positionally excellent, moving the ball with speed and precision, and pressing well. You draw your conclusions but, to me, this season looks very, and I mean very, good.”
Superlatives fail. Barcelona won the league, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League. The latter was breath-taking: deprived of Dani Alves due to the UEFA rules that threaten this year’s final, Puyol was indomitable at right-back, Xavi masterful in the midfield, and Messi supreme in attack. Alex Ferguson’s face was drained of its characteristic purple hue, and Pep Guardiola lifted the European Cup. At the beginning of the next season, Barcelona collected the UEFA Super Cup, the Club World Cup, and the Supercopa de España. In little over a year, Guardiola had won everything there was to be had in Spanish and European football. That he stayed for a further three seasons is testament to his will to succeed, and should serve as a lesson to those who feel wronged by his leaving.