Josep Guardiola is beginning his fourth season as FC Barcelona head coach. The results so far? Three consecutive league titles, two Champions League trophies. Perfect football. Maybe the greatest team Assembled, ever. Lionel Messi, at 24, has been the best player in the world, arguably, but probably, for three years now, more or less. Five La Liga titles, three Champions League, twice FIFA Player of the year.
Barcelona and Real Madrid. A classico on August 14. What a way to kick off the new season, with two matches between the two best teams in Spain, in Europe. Sure, it’s the Supercopa de Espana, not the most important tourney one can think of. Still, it’s a great way for an early ignition to the biggest rivalry of all.
This year, Barcelona can only fall. They might not. No one will be surprised if they win a fourth league title in a row, a second straight Champions League trophy (something never to be done). Since Guardiola took the helms from Rijkaard in August 2008, Barcelona haven’t lost a league match to Real Madrid. How bloody good can they still be?
It’s rarer than once in a generation. To have three players, all bred and grown in the club, of this magnitude, with these skills – Xavi, Iniesta, Lionel Messi. That never happens. It happened to Barca. It took a few years of honing and perfecting, but this threesome, along with the rest of world class talent surrounding them, makes it nearly impossible to imagine Barcelona falling anytime soon. But the legend can’t grow any bigger. So Lionel Messi will be called the greatest, and compared to the greatest ever, once again. There’s no World Cup this year. Nothing to achieve that hasn’t been won before.
Guardiola? He still sees the challenge in another season with the most talented group of players in the world. With an added Alexis Sanchez, and maybe Cesc Fabregas very very soon. He renews his contract annually, signing only for one more year. That’s how it’s been since he’s taken the job. How much hunger for title with the same group of players does he, and they, have? Alex Ferguson never grows tired, but the squad changes. Stars come and go, only he remains.
For Barcelona? It’s been the same squad, pretty much, for the past three years. Lionel Messi failed with Argentina in the Copa America this summer. The amount of guilt and blame burdened on his shoulders was ridiculous. Still, the ‘Messi can’t win with Argentina… Messi can’t win without Xavi…‘ talk didn’t stop. Especially early on in the tournament. A wave of national support came after that, when facing elimination from the group stage. Still, this year? What can Messi do to surprise us?
Score 50 goals? He’s done it. Dribbling? Passing? We’ve seen it all. He’ll probably just as good as last year, and the year before that. Its incredible on its own. But people, and football fans among them (maybe even more), have a short memory. Not only titles. Greatness. Something transcendent. Something we haven’t seen before. I can’t believe Barcelona can be any better than last year. Simply impossible. And there’s that Madrid foe waiting, lurking around the corner.
Cristiano Ronaldo may be the greatest player in the world. A skill set that no one has and no one ever had. He just lives in a world, and in a league, with Lionel Messi. Since winning the 2008 Champions League with a mega season, Ronaldo has just gotten better. His scoring records for Real Madrid are mind blowing. But Real keep finishing second. A Spanish cup win, with Ronaldo scoring the winner, is just a short term cure. An Aspirin for a bigger, deeper pain.
Jose Mourinho hates to lose. Everybody does. But it always seems he does more than others. That’s what the world is like for you when you truly believe you are the best, and deserve to win, everything, every time. The pain of that 5-0 crushing at the Nou Camp, the Champions League defeat in the Semi Final, the red cards, the excuses, the authentic and righteous claims. A build up for this year. The theory of Jose Mourinho making his teams reach their peak during his second season as manager or head coach will be put to another test. It worked with Inter, it worked with Porto. With Chelsea as well, but with no Champions League title, or final, on the resume from his time in England.
The pedestal on which this Barcelona team, and Lionel Messi on its banner, couldn’t be any higher. With nothing left to prove, this team faces yet another year with half the world in awe, overzealous in support and love for the team that plays the game the way it should (on consoles) be played and the other half thinking they get all the breaks, waiting for the fall. For just how much longer can Messi and Guardiola keep this team high above everyone else?