Pep Guardiola, Barcelona & the greatest assist you’ve never seen

“You run slower than my granny!” was Johan Cruyff’s first impression of Pep Guardiola.

Cruyff’s pithy remark was made after watching Guardiola’s performance in a pre-season friendly prior to his first-team breakthrough, whilst the legendary Dutchman also revealed that Barcelona had tried to sell Guardiola in his autobiography.

“As a player at Barcelona, they wanted to get rid of Pep because they thought he was a lanky great beanpole who couldn’t defend, who had no strength and couldn’t do anything in the air,” he wrote in My Turn.

“So he was blamed for all the things he wasn’t good at, while I thought they were all things he could learn to do well.

“What all those people didn’t see was that Guardiola had the fundamental qualities needed at the top level: speed of action, technique, insight. Those are phenomena that very few people exhibit, but in his case they were present in spades.”

There was something else in spades too; sheer chutzpah. The kind that sends Joao Cancelo to Bayern Munich or sells Ronaldinho & Deco to make room for the unproven pair of Sergio Busquets and Pedro.

And the kind that decides a high-quality Champions League match with a pass that was smoother than Usher buttering a slice of toast.

The Stade Louis II in appropriately regal Monaco was the setting for Guardiola’s submission to the annals of human excellence.

Barcelona had travelled to the principality for their opening group match in September 1993, but a line-up containing Hristo Stoichkov and Romario found their French opponents unexpectedly stubborn to break down.

Happily, Guardiola held the master key to unlock their defence. Receiving the ball inside his own half, the midfielder glanced up like a pensioner spotting their bus on the distant horizon and drop-kicked a pass over the despairing heads of the Monaco backline.

Dissected like a dead frog in a science lab, the opposition centre-backs were powerless to stop Stoichkov from latching onto the ball and firing past Jean-Luc Ettori for the game’s only goal.

While Guardiola has built his managerial reputation on making football seem both incredibly simple and impossibly complicated, here was a moment of stripped-back genius from the Catalan.

If there was any justice, a frame-by-frame deconstruction of the assist would hang in the Tate Modern. And we’d get commission for supplying them with exh

It was Cruyff who intervened at a B team game, moving Guardiola into the holding midfield position that would come to define his playing career. He also later promoted him to the first team when Ronald Koeman suffered an injury, instead of following the board’s desire to bring in a more experienced head.

Cruyff’s decision, like so many others, proved inspired and ensured Guardiola fulfilled his ‘non-negotiable dream’ to become synonymous with a golden period in the history of Barcelona.

“I knew nothing about football until I met Cruyff,” the current Manchester City manager once said. One swish of Guardiola’s right boot on a French field is enough to make us all thankful for the Dutchman’s persistence with him.

By Michael Lee

READ MORE: The story of the Englishman and the manager tree that created Guardiola

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name Guardiola’s 30 most-used players throughout his career?