As Pep Guardiola enters his first Champions League semi-final in five years, the Manchester City manager thinks of the “mythical words” – as he described them – uttered nearly 30 years ago by his coach Johan Cruyff.
“Come out and enjoy,” was the message from Cruyff, Barcelona’s coach at the time, to his players before heading to Wembley Stadium for the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria.
Guardiola will not say the same words to his Manchester City players before the first game against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday – “I’m not Johan Cruyff,” he said – but the mood will be the same.
Enjoy coffee at the airport terminal before the flight to Paris.
Enjoy the luxury of a hotel in the French capital.
Enjoy a walk with teammates on the day of the game.
Above all, enjoy looking at the world to yourself.
“Enjoy the responsibility, the pressure, enjoy the fact that you may not live in a situation like this again,” Guardiola said on Tuesday. “It’s the elite. The best players enjoy situations because they take responsibility. That’s why the biggest clubs win these competitions because they play these competitions as a friendly game.
“That’s what I want to see in my team and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
It was an exciting, shocking performance for Guardiola at his pre-match press conference, the shackles at first glance of a manager and a profound football thinker who often seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. After all, he finally led City after the quarterfinals of the race, for the first time since arriving in 2016.
“I already feel the job is done well,” Guardiola said with a wide smile.
And yet the hard work has just begun.
PSG is striving to come up with a better one than last season, when they lost in the final to Bayern Munich and contains two of the most talented and mesmerized players in the world.
Guardiola was even in a cheerful mood, talking about Killian Mbape and Neymar.
“They’re too good!” he said before laughing. “I’ve been trying to sleep well the last few nights, and I’ve slept well when I haven’t thought about them.”
Mbappe, Guardiola said, is a player with “all the football in front of him”. As for Neymar, Guardiola knew the striker was special when he first saw him at the club’s World Cup in 2011, when the Barcelona and Neymar coach was in Santos.
“I remember he was the king of Santos and all the players were open-mouthed and said, ‘Oh my God, what a player,'” Guardiola recalled. “It’s a joy to watch as a spectator. He has Brazil on his shoulders and number 10 is not easy to carry.
“I’m a big fan because he helps us improve our football.”
Some charge the match as an “Oil Derby”, as a nod to the respective property of the clubs from Qatar (PSG) and Abu Dhabi (City). Others define it as a game between a group of people (PSG) and a team (City).
In fact, City winger Riyadh Mahrez emphasized the team in his team, saying: “We don’t have big stars like (Lionel) Messi or (Cristiano) Ronaldo, but everyone can play, everyone makes a difference.”
And Guardiola accepted that PSG has the advantage of experience, as the French champions played in the Champions League final only eight months ago and with similar to Mbape and Neymar have winners of the World Cup and the Champions League in their ranks.
In the City team, only Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Rahim Sterling remain from the country that reached the semifinals in 2016, when they lost to Real Madrid. Bernardo Silva also played in the semifinals for Monaco next year.
Guardiola became quite emotional when he discussed what it means to reach this stage for City players, especially in this season, when the pandemics were lost, when they have already won the English League Cup and are close to conquering the Premier League.
“It’s remarkable what we’ve done,” he said. “We have two victories left (since winning the Champions League) in a year that was difficult for everyone, for families around the world. We lost family and friends.
“But to be so consistent, we have two titles to fight for and we start a dream tomorrow. What we want is not to go to the finals. I want to be ourselves, the way we play. This is my wish, my dream. Then the players with their quality will decide.