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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.