If anyone had said in 2008 that Josep Guardiola would win almost as many trophies in four years as coach of Barcelona as he did in 11 years as a player with the club, then few people would have taken them seriously. And yet, the brilliantly gifted midfielder would show he was equally as talented in the coaching stakes, presiding over a prolific period of success at the Camp Nou.
After a spectacular first season in the Barça dugout, Guardiola took his side to the FIFA Club World Cup Abu Dhabi 2009 with the goal of finally securing the only major trophy they had never won.
In the semi-finals the Catalan aristocrats came up against a tenacious Atlante side coached by Jose Guadalupe Cruz and determined to make life hard for them, which is exactly what they did by scoring after only five minutes. Though that early strike revived unhappy memories of Barcelona’s defeat in the final at Japan 2006, Guardiola’s men dug deep, turned the game around and went on to win the elusive trophy.
As fate would have it, Pep and the man they call El Profe (The Prof) are returning to the world’s premier club competition this year, albeit in charge of different teams, Guardiola having taken over at FC Bayern München and Cruz at CF Monterrey.
Ahead of their opening games at Morocco 2013, FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the Rayados boss about his FC Bayern counterpart and his own hopes of success in the competition.
“They revolutionised the game in a very short space of time,” began Cruz in reference to Barcelona. “They leave a mark on you on the pitch and off it, and I have great admiration for Guardiola.”
As he went on to explain, the Mexican relished that opportunity to take on the very best: “The chance to play against a team ranked as the greatest side in the world was a source of inspiration and motivation for us. It made us see the game in a different light.”
Four years on and he is getting ready for what could well be a similar experience. His Monterrey side, who are representing the CONCACAF Zone for the third time running, make their tournament bow against Raja Club Athletic in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
We are aiming to reach the final. If you don’t have big ambitions, then you can’t achieve anything in life.
Looking ahead to their opening tie, he said: “I’m very excited about it, just as much or even more so than I was the last time. We understand the importance people attach to the Club World Cup. It’s a tournament everyone wants to win. On a personal level, it’s also a major challenge for me with a different team. We are excited and aware of our responsibilities, because we’re representing Monterrey, the whole of Mexico and the CONCACAF region.”
Contemplating the possibility of facing Guardiola’s new club and discussing their style of play, Cruz said: “Bayern play a direct game. They push more men forward and are a lot more physical, whereas Barcelona like to pass the ball around and rotate positions more, whether they’re in possession or not. They’re the team to beat, though you have to say that Atletico Mineiro, whom we could meet in the semi-finals, are another great side and one of the biggest in Brazil.”
Another old acquaintance
Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva played in that Atlante side in 2009 and like Cruz is now with Monterrey. Looking back on his first taste of the Club World Cup, he told FIFA.com: “I feel stronger now, with more experience under my belt. I was in Atlante’s reserve team playing second division football when I appeared at the Club World Cup, and since then I’ve spent two and a half years in the first division. I’ve matured as a result.”
Silva joined Atlante’s reserves from Dorados de Sinaloa, the selfsame Mexican side for whom Guardiola played in 2006. “I arrived just when he left,” explained the Brazilian. “During his time in Mexico Guardiola really impressed people with his qualities as a human being.”
Turning his attention to Morocco 2013, Silva said: “Bayern play very good football. They have the ball most of the time and that makes it very hard for a midfielder because you can’t take it from them and you can’t attack either. It’s an honour to be up against opponents like that and to be on the same pitch as players with so much quality and such great careers.”
His coach Cruz did not shirk the challenge when Atlante took on Barcelona four years ago, and he is not about to evade his responsibilities now: “We are aiming to reach the final. If you don’t have big ambitions, then you can’t achieve anything in life. Rayados’ fans are expecting to see us improve on last year’s third place. We have a lot of quality and a lot of skill. We’re going there to perform, not to talk.”
Having the final word, Silva commented: “We have to enjoy it because you never know if these are going to be your last 90 minutes. We had to win a long tournament to get here and it wasn’t easy at all. You never know when you’re going to get the chance to come back.”