Exactly 11 years ago, on May 2, 2009, a game was played that marked the career of two idols of Barcelona. One, on the court, the Argentine Lionel Messi. The other, from the line, the coach Josep Guardiola.
A tactical move, a change of position for what was then an emerging figure in world football, At just 22 years old, it was the breaking point for the creation of one of the best teams in history. The false ‘9’ was born.
Guardiola, from before that 2-6 against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, had already noticed what Messi could give him. And that’s why I pampered him. Before his arrival, Leo had not fully established himself as the great figure he was. The leader on the court was another, Ronaldinho Gaúcho. But when Guardiola took office, he announced that he would not have the Brazilian, who in that summer of 2008 went to Milan.
Pep began to follow Messi and pamper him. And he started looking for the position on the court that would work best for him. Even as a newcomer, he had to settle a conflict: Leo wanted to go to the Olympics with Argentina and Barcelona did not want to give it up. Guardiola began to make arrangements. First he spoke with the managers to convince them to lend it, that this could have benefits for everyone. And then he spoke to Messi:
I will allow you to go because I have been an Olympic champion and I want you to be too.
Barcelona had, at that time, two ‘9 ’s, the French Thierry Henry and the Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o. But the idea with Messi was another. And he came to apply it in a game in which the league title was played, and in the middle of the two games of the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea by José Mourinho.
“I want that pressure. It is ours and I love it. And if something happens and we lose, so be it. It is a final, and the finals should be played with ambition, ”said Guardiola before the duel with Madrid. I already had an idea in my head.
“Pep called me a day before the classic and made me come to the sports city to tell me that we were going to change position. I had been watching games with Tito Vilanova and they had decided to do something new, ”Messi said in Take the Ball, Pass the Ball, a 2018 documentary that reviewed the glorious Guardiola era at Barça.
Pep called me a day before the classic and made me come to the sports city to tell me that we were going to change position.
In that same audiovisual production, Xavi Hernández explained the technician’s philosophy when making that modification. Guardiola changed the system and told Henry and Eto’o to play between center and lateral. Analyzing the movements of the Real Madrid centrals, Pep had realized that they never came out to pressure the number nine of any team. We made the numerical superiority with the false ‘9’, which Messi came to join the environment. We were always one more to have the ball and we had numerical superiority throughout the match ”.
In Guardiola’s biography another moment of the preparation of that match is mentioned, a meeting of the DT with Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, an hour and a half before the match. “You three against Lass (Diarra) and (Fernando) Gago. I know they can. If they do the three against two well, we will have won the game, ”he told them.
Barça started losing that game, with a goal from Argentine Gonzalo Higuaín. But Pep was more than convinced of what he had planned. “It was something new for Real Madrid. They had us very studied and at that time they did not know whether to leave. Freedom when I threw myself back and when the centrals came out, Samuel and Henry ‘itched’ into space and thus came Henry’s first goal, ”Messi recalled.
“It worked. In Messi’s assist exactly what the coach wanted happened. Leo delayed the position and made the centrals hesitate.
It worked. In Messi’s assist exactly what the coach wanted happened. Leo delayed the position and made the centrals hesitate.
It was not the only thing he prepared for that game. The second goal was trained with three solo players, Xavi, Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué. I charge the first from the edge of the area, but before that he started to make some hand gestures. Puyol made the gesture of leaving the area, but then turned around and found the hole to score the 1-2. The rest of the team did not know of the existence of the previous preparation of that play.
But back to the initial plan, those of Barça took advantage of all the spaces and the centrals of Real Madrid that day, the Italian Fabio Cannavaro and the German Christoph Metzelder lived an ordeal. If they stayed in position, Messi threw the party. If they went ahead to support Lass and Gago, they left the gap for Henry and Eto’o to do the damage.
Messi sealed his transformation with a jewel, Barça’s fifth goal in 2-6, when he received a pass from Xavi, he threatened with a cross shot and then made a hip movement to put the ball for the stick that the goalkeeper Iker Casillas took care of. It was the beginning of a brilliant era, that of the six titles in the same season.
Jose Orlando Ascencio
Sports Deputy Editor
On Twitter: @josasc