Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Barcelona v Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi hails influence of Pep Guardiola ahead of Champions League semi-final

Messi and Guardiola won a total of 14 trophies in their four years together, and will be reunited at the Nou Camp on Wednesday
Lionel Messi has hailed the lasting effect Pep Guardiola had on him on the eve of Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final first leg game with Bayern Munich.

On Wednesday the world will watch as Barcelona’s greatest ever player and their greatest ever manager are reunited at the Nou Camp, whereGuardiola will look to knock his former club out of the Champions League.

Lionel Messi became the best player in the world under Pep Guardiola
Lionel Messi became the best player in the world under Pep Guardiola
Messi and Guardiola won a total of 14 trophies in their four years together, a time in which the Argentinian also won three consecutive Ballon d’Ors, reigning supreme in the ‘false nine’ position his coach created for him in his first season.

“I have kept everything I learned with him,” Messi told a crammed press room at Barcelona’s Sant Joan Despí training ground, in his first Barcelona press conference in almost two years.

Just as in Guardiola’s first year at Barcelona, this season Messi and his team-mates could win a treble of the Liga title, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, with Bayern standing in Barca’s way of reaching their first European final since 2011, when the Catalan coach masterminded a 3-1 over Manchester United at Wembley.

Guardiola has guided Bayern Munich to the Champions League semi-final
Guardiola has guided Bayern Munich to 
the Champions League semi-final
“His era was very important,” added Messi. “As well as the titles we won I really grew a lot and I want to keep winning things for the club. I have tried to keep growing as I always did.”

Although effusive in his praise for Guardiola, the Argentinian admitted that the pair had not kept in touch since the coach walked away from Barcelona in 2012.

“The truth is it isn't we have met very much. We met a couple of times at the Ballon d’Or but we haven't met much since then. We had a good relationship here but now I treat him just like any other colleague.”

Like Messi, Guardiola is a graduate of Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy, going on to boss the team’s midfield for 11 years and wearing the captain’s armband, before presiding over the club’s most successful era.

Guardiola during his playing days at Barcelona
Guardiola during his playing days at Barcelona
Messi predicts a great reception for his former coach, but does not think Guardiola’s former allegiances will come into play.

“He will get the reception you would expect, considering what Pep meant as a coach, because he won so much, because this is his home. But when the game starts I think all that will go to one side, because we want to win. Once the game starts, that will all be forgotten.”

Messi’s relationship with Guardiola is clearly different to the one he has with his current coach.

Luis Enrique provoked a mini crisis in January by putting Messi on the bench for the away defeat to Real Sociedad, with Messi failing to report for an open-door training session with fans the following day, and the pair also had a confrontation on the training ground that same month.

Messi has not always seen eye to eye with current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique
Messi has not always seen eye to eye with 
current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique
Messi did not pretend that he and the coach have always seen eye to eye, but insisted they had ironed out their differences.

“At the time I clarified that,” Messi said with an uneasy smile.

“What happened, happened. It was spoken about but there is no problem.”

There is certainly no problem on the pitch. Messi has scored 51 goals in all competitions this season, returning to his best after a relatively disappointing 2013/14 season in which he won no major trophies, surrendered the Ballon d’Or to Cristiano Ronaldo and was on the losing side with Argentina in the World Cup final.

The Argentine is relishing playing with Neymar and Luis Suarez
The Argentine is relishing playing with Neymar and Luis Suarez
"It was a difficult year for me, because of everything I live on and off the pitch," he said.

"I had injuries, returning and not feel the way I wanted and tried. It was a complicate years. Luckily, when I started this year it was totally different and I feel very good.”

He has also enjoyed a better relationship with his fellow forwards Neymar and Luis Suárez than any of his previous strike partners. The trio have scored a combined 108 goals between them this season, making them Barca’s most prolific trident of all time.

“Luis and Ney are two of the best strikers in the world. We have a very good relationship both on and off the pitch. Luis is important, he is a spectacular person and has adapted well to the dressing room.”

“But I don’t consider myself anything more than just another player in a dressing room where there are lots of very important players. We are all the same in the dressing room. We all have the right to feel however we want, and we all want to win things."
The Telegraph

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