Pep Guardiola is such an obsessive guy that, sooner or later, he ends up showing all the crystals that explode inside. It happened in Abu Dhabi, when, hugging Manel Estiarte, guardian angel and best water polo player in history, he got tired of crying after winning a seemingly minor title (the Club World Cup against Estudiantes de la Plata), but with the symbolism that suited him perfectly: the Barça sextet in 2009. Last week, when, in charge of a Manchester City in which he celebrates his seventh season, he won the FA Cup against Manchester United at Wembley to be one step away from the treble, the scene was repeated. The tears overflowed again without remedy. Perhaps because one can live in a watchtower, but never ceases to be human. And because, if this Saturday he manages to beat Inter at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul in what will be his fourth Champions League final, he will have broken the wall that contains non-believers. Those who always feared that he could not lift the great trophy again away from the best Barça ever, and without Messi as an answer to dilemmas not always earthly.

Like all self-respecting stories, it all began in an agape from which Guardiola did not expect much more than tasting a plate of chickpeas and lamb ribs at the Bodega Sepúlveda in Barcelona. The journalist Luis Martín, who knows like few the psychological behavior of the coach of Santpedor, relates in his work When we were eternal (Timun Mas) that it was Joan Patsy, historical journalist of TV3 and extension for years of Johan Cruyff in Barcelona, who warned him that he would be the coach of the first team of Barcelona. Guardiola, at that time, was only trying to understand his new job managing Barça B in the fields of Tercera. It was October 2007. Guardiola told Patsy he was crazy. But mid-morning on May 6, 2008, in the room of the Dexeus Clinic where his young daughter, Valentina, had been born at dawn, Joan Laporta confirmed that he would be the replacement of Frank Rijkaard in the team. "But I would have coached Infantil B for ten years. I just wanted to train."

The three Champions League finals led by Pep Guardiola, two with Barcelona, one with City, two won, the last lost, speak for themselves of a path that has lasted 15 years.

First final. Barcelona 2 Manchester United 0 (Rome, 2009)

Leo Messi usually hesitates little when asked about his most beautiful goals. It must be difficult when you add up to the 806 count in your sports career. But the Argentine could never get out of his head that flight that challenged his alleged shortcomings. In front of the giant Van der Sar and the incomprehension of Rio Ferdinand, Messi was suspended in the air and closed a night that Samuel Eto'o had previously clarified. His kick, redemptive, was executed before the same Guardiola who lifted the sentence that had been carried forward the previous summer to Ronaldinho and Deco.

But if that final is remembered for something, it was for the emotional torrent that Guardiola caused in his players before starting the game. He had hidden a projector and a screen in a locker room with temperatures typical of the underworld. And there, with the lights off, he made his staff watch the video that Santi Padró, a TV3 worker, had made for him. As Luis Martín recalls, Guardiola asked him the day after Iniesta's heavenly goal at Stamford Bridge, satisfied as he had been of a similar assignment a year earlier, when the promotion was played with the subsidiary against Barbastro. Padró had to cut the first assembly from 22 minutes to seven minutes and 15 seconds from the final. Guardiola asked that images of all the players should appear, including the injured Milito. And he also demanded that he himself could not appear. Between scenes from the movie Gladiator, a concert by Eros Ramazzotti and the unbearable sound impact of the Nessun Dorma, some of the players left the field shattered. So much so that it had to be Víctor Valdés who sustained the team during the first 10 minutes against Cristiano's United. From Eto'o's goal, Barça could fly.

Second final. Barcelona 3 Manchester United 1 (London, 2011)

Whoever writes here still remembers Sir Alex Ferguson, his face even redder than usual, and without the strength to push away the journalists who crossed his path to the press room at Wembley Stadium. "This team is the best we've ever known. Everyone knows it and I accept it. No one has beaten us up like that." The legendary Manchester United coach had to suffer perhaps the great masterpiece of that Barça of Guardiola in which the momentary 1-1 of Rooney was nothing more than an inappreciable dissonance between a dance of passes incomprehensible for the red devils, who only found some respite when they took the ball to the center of the field after Pedro's goals, Messi and Villa.

Perfection has never been so close. Barça only committed five fouls. He did not let his rival throw a single corner. And so convinced was Guardiola that everything would go well that, at half-time, seeing that it was Xavi Hernández who was giving the talk to his teammates in the dressing room, he let him do it. That was the day Eric Abidal started at left-back two and a half months after undergoing surgery for a liver tumour. Puyol, who had come on in the 88th minute to lift the trophy as captain, à la Alexanko at the old Wembley, ceded the honour to his teammate.

"We didn't just win, we played great," Guardiola said.

Third final. Manchester City 0 Chelsea 1 (Porto, 2021)

Few things torture Guardiola more than making a mistake in a game plan. During his time at Bayern, in the second leg of the semifinals against Real Madrid in 2014, he committed "the worst shit I ever did as a coach," according to Martí Perarnau.

He does not put in that same balance, at least publicly, the tactical pirouette used in his first Champions League final in front of Manchester City and against one of his most advantaged apostles, Thomas Tuchel. Guardiola erased from the field his midfielders with greater capacity for destruction (Fernandinho and Rodri); he left Gündogan alone to manage as best he could in the steppe; nor did he use any centre forward (Agüero and Gabriel Jesus were left out); and, after Chelsea found highways in the open field for their counterattacks and consummated the defeat, the British press found in Guardiola the main culprit.

"It's been a mad professor's experiment," the sensationalist The Sun dedicated to him. Although the harshness in the analysis of the approach was widespread and lasting. Even this week there were those who asked him about the same thing. "It was a game plan as it will be this Saturday against Inter. And if I tell you the reason I made the decision, maybe you think I'm right [replied to the journalist who was interested]."

And he settled with one of his usual preaching: "If I win, I'm right. If I lose, I'm wrong. In this business, you have to accept it, would you do it differently now? Maybe it does, but that doesn't count anymore."

  • Pep Guardiola

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