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Managers - Pep Guardiola

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Barca - Player pen pix| Pep Guardiola | Sir Alex Ferguson | Man Utd - Player Pen Pix

ROUTES TO ROME: Barcelona | Manchester United

While Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the most experienced coaches in world football, his counterpart in Rome is the polar opposite.

Incredibly, Pep Guardiola is at the end of his first season as a top flight manager - but what a season it has been. With the Copa del Rey and La Liga titles already won, Barcelona's rookie coach travels to Rome on the verge of sealing an incredible treble.

After graduating from Barca's La Masia academy in the 1980s, during which time he worked as a ball-boy at the Camp Nou, Guardiola developed into fine player and became a key member of Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team" - featuring Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup and Hristo Stoichkov - which won the 1992 European Cup at Wembley.

As captain of the club, Guardiola became a fans' favourite and played a key role in winning six La Liga titles, and the Cup Winners Cup under Bobby Robson.

Guardiola left Barcelona in 2001 and had unspectacular spells playing in Italy, Qatar and Mexico. He retired as a player in 2006, but a year later was back in the sport having been charged with coaching Barca B, the Catalan club's reserve side.

After Frank Rijkaard's reign soured, Joan Laporta defied conventional wisdom and resisted the popular clamour to appoint Jose Mourinho. Instead, he opted to give Guardiola the chance to step-up and coach the Barcelona first team.

The president's logic, informed by taking advice from Cruyff, was that while Guardiola may not have been vastly experienced, he knew the club intimately and would play football in the style demanded by Barcelona.

Laporta and Cruyff's faith has been repaid by Guardiola who has revitalised the club's fortunes; the current Barcelona side are unrecognisable from the team who just 12 months ago finished the 2007-08 season third in La Liga, 18 points adrift of champions Real Madrid.

While Guardiola favours the 4-3-3 system utilised by his predecessor, much has changed under the new boss. Samuel Eto'o, for one, is a rejuvenated player and has played a key role in his coach's debut season less than a year after looking certain to leave; similarly Thierry Henry and Xavi have also flourished under Guardiola.

One key observation made by Guardiola's players is that he has managed to introduce a harder work ethic than was the case under Rijkaard's regime, and at the same time also managed to foster a better atmosphere and a closer-knit team thanks to a more personal approach.

Whatever the secret, Guardiola is on the verge of writing his name in history and securing a place alongside the coaching greats; not bad for a 38-year-old.


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