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Pep Guardiola Over-Reliance On Lionel Messi Hurt Barcelona

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What is there left to say, or write? Though I won’t be as harsh as Jose I will also refrain from championing Pep Guardiola the best in the business. He did exceptionally well but let me ask you a question:

How is it possible to not win a title when you can call upon the talents of say Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi?

Now let me ask you another question:

Does FC Barcelona need Pep Guardiola to be successful or does Pep Guardiola need FC Barcelona?

FC Barcelona has not ever played football that was not sexy or stylish for that matter. Frank Rijkaard’s team was definitely one of the most entertaining sides in the past decade. If anything Rikaard’s Barca was not over-reliant on one player, not even Ronaldinho. Though it would be a stretch to suggest that the Dutchman’s team was evenly balanced it was less centered around the talents of the brilliant Brazilian than it is on Lionel Messi these days.

While Pep’s team actually outscored each and every team during his reign, domestic and continental, save Real Madrid, one cannot shake off the feeling that FC Barcelona has been essentially a one-man show – The Lionel Messi Show.

Chief among his achievements, certainly the one on which the fundaments of his success are built upon is the ability to capitalize off of Lionel Messi’s talent. Ever since Pep Guardiola took charge Lionel Messi’s numbers have steadily increased over the last four seasons 2008/2009 (38); 2009/2010 (47), 2010/2011 (53), and an unworldly 72 in the ongoing 2011/2012 season but so has Messi-dependency. In the treble season of 2008/2009 the triumvirate of Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi scored an astonishing 100 goals (26; 36, 38) in between them.

Just to give you an idea, an elite forward is someone who scores roughly 1 in 2, or, over the course of a season of 40 to 45 games some 20-plus goals. Most managers would kill to have one 20-plus forward – Kenny Dalghish is definitely one of them – meanwhile FC Barcelona had three.

But for whatever reason Pep Guardiola felt inclined to dissolve this spectacular trio and give in to his inner “feelings”. Those feelings led him to believe he needed to get rid of Samuel Eto’o. Of course there were only a very few that a) could afford Samuel Eto’o and b) offer a viable replacement for the indomitable lion.

Meet Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 69-Million-Euro-Man (49 Million Euro and Samuel Eto’o who was rated at 20 Million Euro).

The combination of the volatile Swede and FC Barcelona was never going to work, even though this writer once foolishly believed so. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a track record of being lazy, a diva and a certified Euro-flop. In the now infamous return leg of the 2009/2010 Champions League semi-final against his former employees, Inter Milan, Ibrahimovic managed to cover less ground than goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Who would go on and win a second successive treble that season? Samuel Eto’o, the player Pep Guardiola wanted out of Barcelona.

In retrospect the idea was right, someone had to go but it wasn’t Samuel Eto’o but his colleague Thierry Henry. The Frenchman joined the Blaugrana with one objective, and one objective only – winning the UEFA Champions League.

It can be argued that after he finally achieved to win the trophy that eluded him for so many years he found it hard to motivate himself properly in the subsequent season. Nevertheless, Pep Guardiola quickly found his replacement in another La Masia graduate, Pedro. However, in 2009/2010 the newly assembled triumvirate of Pedro, Ibrahimovic and Messi “just” scored 89 (21, 21, 47) goals in between them.

Apparently 69 Million Euro weren’t enough to convince Pep Guardiola to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In 2010/2011 he yet again had another revelation and requested the services of David Villa – for 40 Million Euro no less. Wouldn’t it have been easier to buy El Guaje a year earlier and keep Samuel Eto’o, even if it meant losing him on a Bosman?

After all, the rationale of retaining value and saving money doesn’t really apply when FC Barcelona have essentially wasted 109 Million Euro (excluding the exorbitant wages of Ibrahimovic) in finding a replacement for a player that didn’t want to go in the first place. What’s even worse, Pep Guardiola was hell-bent in remodeling a central striker in his prime at the age of 29, into a left-winger.

Can somebody please explain the logic behind that?

FC Barcelona’s financial woes are well documented but with acquisitions like these one doesn’t have to wonder. David Villa is a finer player. There’s no arguing that. But for one he has no resell-value after this summer, he’ll turn 31 in December and two, he is not a left-winger. Someone is to blame and that someone is most likely Pep Guardiola. In 2010/2011 the re-reassembled triumvirate of David Villa, Lionel Messi and Pedro scored 98 (23, 53, 22) goals in all competitions. For the second time in a row Lionel Messi scored more goals than his fellow forwards combined 53 > 45.

It’s a worrying trend that started after Pep Guardiola succumbed to his feelings back in 2009. In the ongoing 2011/2012 season the disparity has only increased exponentially. Not only has Lionel Messi already scored 72 goals in all competitions, he has also scored more goals than the next 4 (!) players combined: 72 > 64 – Cesc Fabregas (15), Xavi (15), Alexis Sanchez (14), Pedro (11) and David Villa (9).

Only the most ignorant of FC Barcelona supporter will argue the legitimacy of Messi-dependency. Under Pep Guardiola FC Barcelona become one-dimensional and utterly dependent on Lionel Messi. The most recent games against Real Madrid and Chelsea FC can attest to that. Nullify the threat of La Pulga renders FC Barcelona possession play useless.

Sure, Pep Guardiola has led FC Barcelona to several honors and admiration throughout the football world and beyond but it’s largely built upon the back on one man – Lionel Messi. For better or worse that’s the legacy he leaves behind.

Written by Adi-Oula Sebastian. You can follow him (and provide feedback) on Twitter.

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Comments (21)

  1. Barcelona will perform better even without being coached.

  2. Total crap. The old Barca was more reliant on Ronaldinho you Messi fan. Of course Guardiola is an idiot with a squad full of talent, but he gave Messi a free role in the middle that stunted villa’s ability. We all know how much more deadly Villa is as a centre forward.

    • u are the idiot speaking trash of guadiola.The man was a player n now a coach of the very system which groomed him.he has a great impact on the team.Gerrad oique found himeself under the coaching of pep.mattserano looks like a different player these days.many other barca teams were just as powerful . under acheived.so give guadiola his praise.by the way i am an inter millan(italy)bayern(ger),psg france,n i just enjoy the seat spanish football.united in england.i favour inter millan over all.

    • Let me ask you something…how many crutial goals has Ronaldinho scored?….how many crutial goals has Messi scored? I can tell you Messi has scored and assisted a lot more crutial goals than Dinho, which makes him far more important in every way. Especially since his crutial goals have brought barca about 13 trophies in 4 seasons ( something never done before)

  3. Funny. It’s interesting how you manage to disagree, offend and agree with me in one single comment.

    I’m a Messi fan? Sure, I am a FC Barcelona fan, hence by default a Messi fan. However, I think you were implying that I am some sort of fanboy.

    How can I be a Messi fanboy when I’m not exactly a fan of Barcelona’s depence on him? I merely stated the obvious – Barcelona can’t win without Messi.

    The “old” Barca started winning trophies AFTER they acquired Samuel Eto’o. Sure Ronaldinho was essential but with Eto’o came the success. Just food for thought.

  4. Do you actually believe this or is it just written to get a reaction?

    Not sure where to start with how wide of the mark this article is.

  5. This is the problem with the Internet, you have clueless people writing what they want, and even more clueless people believing whats written!

    Barca finished 18 points behind Real Madrid in what was Rijkaard’s final season at the helm. Guardiola came and turned everything around. Now, for those who only started watching a few clasico’s recently, Rijkaard’s Barca played the pass and move game BUT nowhere near as fluid and to the level of intelligence Pep’s Barca has. You do not finish 18 points behind the winner, and then do the treble the following season without knowing what you’re doing!!

    This article is based on two games…but I never read these articles when Barca thrashed Madrid 5-0 and 6-2 or thrashed the Champions of England twice in Champions League finals?! You can see the jump up in stats and check any head to head records during Pep’s time in charge and you’ll get the truth.

    Barca HAVE won games without Messi and for the record, Messi, Xavi & Iniesta were all in the side when Rijkaard was in charge. If you do not know what you’re talking about, keep your opinions to yourself.

    Madrid Fan.

    • I guess that’s the problem with opinions – everybody is entitled to have one.

      Where to start?

      Okay Rijkaard’s Barca finished 18 points behind Real Madrid but to imply it was because of Los Blancos superiority is outrageous. If anything Rijkaard’s team imploded, mainly because the Dutchman lost the dressing room following Henk ten Cate’s exit (Summer 2006).

      Ten Cate was the disciplinarian to Rijkaards visionairy. It’s no coincidence that Barca (and Rijkaard for that matter) failed to win any trophy in the subsequent seasons.

      It’s funny that you are highlighting the 6-2 at the Bernabeu since I have made it clear that in 2008/2009 Pep got it right. That game, and the 5-0 at the Camp Nou, offered exactly what is missing right now – several goal scorers not just Messi.

      Furthermore you fail to acknowledge the fact that in both these games Real Madrid tried to face Barcelona on equal ground (read: play football).

      However, parking the bus becomes infinitely more easy when the tactics of your opponent are designed to maximize off of the talents of one player.

      Under Rijkaard Deco occupied the role Xavi is given at present. Iniesta like Messi spent more time on the sidelines than on the pitch. San Andres is nearing his peak now, while Messi has managed to stay injury-free during Pep’s reign.

      But as always this can be very well be the product of my vivid imagination.

  6. @James

    The numbers speak for themselves.

  7. I completely agree with you. Eto’o was the perfect folly to Messi’s game. He knew how to work with him, but at the same time, he was a confident and unappreciatedly skilled player, was wasn’t afraid to put the team on him back and take on teams. Most importantly, he knew how to operate in Barca’s system. It would have been easier to expand his role in the team than to teach Villa and Ibra that complicated system. To this day, I still scratch my head trying to figure out what pep was thinking. In a more sane world, this is when Eto’o should have been leaving Barcelona for greener pastures. If they had offered him even 2 million more, they would have saved 100 mill more through those bad bus

  8. lol…

    this ‘article’ is a joke. it’s funny how all these writers are now experts on Barcelona’s history and style of play after only tuning in a few years ago–if that.

  9. This article is a 100% accurate. Pep actually managed himself into a corner. He had such a blind spot when it came to Messi, forgiveable given his talent, that he had

    1. asked every other player in the team to play to Messi’s strengths and through Messi. This made us very 1 dimensional and meant the rest of our attack are essentially asked to curtail their goal scoring instincts

    2. treated Messi completely differently to the rest of the squad, never rotating him, never subbing him, and ultimately letting Messi manage himself so that he could break records and win the pichichi but also tire himself out and burn out at the business end of the season.

    The only sin worse than depending too much on Messi is to then not even manage the resource that your team’s success depends on adequately enough. So that you don’t have a team built around an exhausted man trying to get to the final of the Champions League.

    My fear is that Tito is supposed to be just like Pep. If we are in for more of the same then we won’t be winning the titles that really matter any time soon

  10. yep i agree……if barca is going to depend on messi completely in the upcomming years they will probably win nothing…every team that faces barca in the next season will use the strategy of parking the bus in the stadium…so if they want to win anything …give villa the central role and let messi play behind him…or buy neymar and let villa messi and neymar as strikers….neymar is almost as good as messi in terms of individual play……..depend on messi alone more champions league semi heart break will occur…because now every team is used to this barca strategy…..and i am a die hard barca fan …iam disappointed the way barca crashed out of CL…of all the chances they made they cant find the back of the net…….

  11. Success is what matters , pep was most successful manager of Barcelona ever. If anyone thinks he wasn’t good enough should apply for the same job, you would be kicked out before you reach the Barca Airport lol.

  12. However, I am a true FCB fan but I am agree with this article, I followed each game of FCB in the current season, its completely right. The season 2011-12 was exclusively dependent to Messi. We all agree that Messi is the one who will never be repeated in football history but despite of that he is a human, he can’t continue like this in the future all the time, at the same time, its very risky for the team to have strong dependency only on Leo. Therefore, we need to have many threats in front lines.

  13. I too am a huge Barcelona fan, but more importantly, a great admirer of Messi’s genius. And like yourself, I too began to worry towards the second half of the season: (a) the team relied too heavily on Messi’s goals, and (b) relied on midfielder’s to play central defense. As much as I wanted Messi to score a billion goals, in the end, the team needed other forwards to score as well. I believe Barcelona FC will learn from these tactical error’s, and hopefully have a solution set up for next season. After all, scoring goals and breaking records is a wonderful accomplishment for the greatest footballer of our generation, but winning trophies continues a dynasty — that is Barcelona FC.

    P.S. This was a great article!

  14. Wow!! This is super ridiculous.. I cant imagine where people these days derive there thoughts from. If u wanna critisise I advice u betta grab a clear faculty of thinking first before u open up and judge. And If u wanna judge, u look at the big picture. What! An unprecedented 13 trophies in 4 seasons including 3 la liga titles ina row wt 2 CL.. U are kidding ryt! Its about time u know that nothing is perfect. In the world of football every strategy has advantage and a disadvantage. Am sorry, but honestly, sentiments aside ur piece was too myopic!

  15. Doesn’t the fact that Messi scored more than his next 4 players worry you?

    Of course Pep’s Barca won 13, potentially 14, trophies but the bulk of it was won in 2009 (6).

    Let me ask you a question, if we were to ignore Messi’s goals – how many points would we have accumulated exactly?

    In the treble season which for whatever reason fans just seem unwilling to let go off Barcelona had 3 players scoring more than 20 goals. I suppose that hasn’t anything to do with the treble or sextuple for that matter?

    A truly dominant team will have forward line that is more or less balanced (of course having a freak like Messi or Ronaldo is the exception).

    Messi scored 72 to the 64 of Xavi, Cesc, Alexis, Pedro and Villa. All in all, he scored more goals than 5 of his teammates.

    Now let’s take a closer look at Real Madrid’s forwards (with superfreak Ronaldo).

    Ronaldo 60, Benzema 31 and Higuain 26. That’s still 60 > 57 but, and I suggest you take a good look at it, each of them has scored more than the 20-goals barrier.

    How is it possible that Mourinho can extract the very best out of Ronaldo and have two more exceptionally goal-scorers?

    You mean to tell me David Villa is not capable of scoring 30? He barely cracked 20 in his debut season. Why?

    Because he is asked to accomodate Messi. For the love of God, David Villa is not a left-winger, not even an inverted forward.

    That’s what I mean with making Barca overly dependent on Messi.

  16. Statistics dont lie, this article is hilariously true. But this can only happen in Spain where two dominant teams and four or five players between these two teams score over 200 goals between them. it means there is something un-football here. look, Barca and real madrid are so top that the third team is over 30 points adrift! Call it whatever, but i think this skewed tenndancy is uncharacteristic of good footbal. We dont watch football for goals, we like the entertainment, so the goals debate is rubbish for me. Whatever, FCB plays entertaining football and tht is all, PERIOD

  17. This article is short of the fact that this season was an injury plaqued 1 with only messi being the injury free player hw does that make the others not scoring mean dependency on messi,Sanchez was not a hit this season,deploying fabregas in that advance role meant minimal potency upfront.there are many reasons a team’s attack does not score. 1. May be due to injuries 2. Misfiring 3. Inexperienced players.To say that Barca is dependent on messi is not entirely true.Stats always don’t paint the right picture according to your article C Ronaldo also managed more goals than madrid’s next 2 top scorers although they managed 20+ each.However Villa on the left managed 20+ goals in his 1st season,also scored 5goals to hand Spain their 1st WC eva from the left side of attack eventhough I wld luv to have Villa in the centre of attack.last season,Villa was the highest benefactor of messi’s assists.being the biggest performer does not mean a team is dependent on you.C ronaldo managed a lot yet his other strike partners also contributed 20+ each all bcos they were fit,experienced n potent n not misfiring