Barcelona: Lionel Messi was never as good as he was under Pep Guardiola, says Erik ten Hag

  • Barcelona, Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi combined to form an unstoppable team in 2008
  • Ten Hag believes that Messi was truly at his best under the Catalan and hasn't been as good ever since
Sai Teja
Modified 09 May 2020, 18:53 IST

Lionel Messi won four Ballon d
Lionel Messi won four Ballon d'Ors in Pep Guardiola's four years at Barcelona

Barcelona, Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi's stars perfectly aligned to create an unstoppable force back in 2008. The Catalan coach, who took over from former Barcelona player Frank Rijkaard at the time, essentially revolutionised 21st-century football to an unimaginable extent.

When 'Pep' was instilled at the helm of the Nou Camp, he effectively lifted Barcelona from their trophyless run to the most breathtaking club in world football. What the world didn't know was that Guardiola's mind wasn't the only weapon that was set to smash European football. There was another, training and mastering the art of 'the Barcelona way' in La Masia, ready to dismantle any opposition that came his way — a young and electrifying Lionel Messi.

'Lionel Messi has never been as good as he was under Pep's Barcelona'

Lionel Messi in 2011
Lionel Messi in 2011

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag, while speaking to Voetbal International, expressed his belief that Lionel Messi was truly at his finest under Guardiola. He began,

"Messi was one of the leaders, but he also worked for the team and excelled as a result. He has never been as good as under Guardiola. Barcelona has not won much in European terms in recent years either."

Ten Hag went on to insist that although Lionel Messi still is an unbelievable player, there was an edge to the Argentina captain under his former coach.

"Messi still excels, but now also occasionally goes through the lower limit. It was never like that under Guardiola.
"Pep has guts, he dares to be pioneering and innovative."

Ten Hag spent two years working up and close with Guardiola at Bayern Munich as the manager of the reserve team. A self-confessed fan of the Catalan's work, ten Hag went on to build an exciting young team at Ajax who took Europe by storm.


Guardiola took over the reins of Rijkaard and moulded a squad in his image of the 'perfect' way to play football. Barcelona have historically been staunch about their way of playing the game, their vision of football imparted by the late Johan Cruyff.

The Catalan coach, who played under Cruyff's management as a player at Barcelona credits the Dutchman for his beautiful approach to the game. Speaking on Cruyff, Guardiola said in an interview with The Guardian,

"Before he came we didn’t have a cathedral of football, this beautiful church, at Barcelona. We needed something new. And now it is something that has lasted. It was built by one man, by Johan Cruyff, stone by stone. That’s why he was special."

Guardiola coach had a stunning spell of four-years where there wasn't a single trophy that the Blaugrana didn't manage to win. He guided Barcelona to four La Liga, three Copa del Rey and two UEFA Champions League titles in this period. This is arguably the most decorated spell in modern football, and the Catalans even completed an unprecedented sextuple, winning six out of the six trophies available to them in the span of a single season.

Pep Guardiola completed an unprecedented domestic treble with Manchester City
Pep Guardiola completed an unprecedented domestic treble with Manchester City

Lionel Messi was absolutely central to this golden era in Barcelona's history that stunned the world. The forward was at the prime of his physical ability, outrunning defences with his mesmerising dribbling ability and not to mention, a knack for incredible goals.

This was evident particularly in the calendar year 2012 where Lionel Messi scored a record-shattering 91 goals in 69 games. He demolished the previous record for the most goals in a calendar year previously held by Gerd Müller (85).

This is also undisputedly the most illustrious spell on a personal note for Lionel Messi, who won four consecutive Ballon d'Or awards in Guardiola's four years at the club. In this period, Messi scored 138 goals and registered 55 assists in the league alone.

He's gone on to win the Ballon d'Or a record six times so far and set to return for Barcelona once the La Liga resumes behind closed doors.

Published 09 May 2020, 18:53 IST
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