Pep Guardiola believes part of the difficulty in halting Lionel Messi is that not even he knows what he is going to do next.
The Manchester City manager has the task of formulating a game plan to stop Messi on Wednesday as his side host Paris Saint-Germain, looking for the point that would book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League for a ninth consecutive season.
But he benefited from Messi’s unpredictability during a four-year spell in charge at the Nou Camp when the Argentinian scored 211 goals and Barcelona won the Champions League twice.
“It’s so difficult. Sometimes when he has the ball he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.” Guardiola said. “There are players who you can say if they will go right or left. When he has the ball, not even he knows exactly what he is going to do.”
Messi scored his first goal for PSG when they beat City 2-0 in September and Guardiola believes the 2020 Champions League finalists can field three more of the game’s outstanding attackers, adding: “Neymar, [Kylian] Mbappe, [Angel] Di Maria: every player could be the star in any team around the world and all four are in the same team.”
City are without Kevin de Bruyne, who has tested positive for coronavirus, but Jack Grealish is back in contention while Sergio Ramos is fit to make his belated PSG debut.
For Guardiola, it is a rematch with Mauricio Pochettino, who he beat in last season’s Champions League semi-finals. The former Tottenham manager is the favourite for the Manchester United job but his only silverware as a coach is the Coupe de France.
But Guardiola insisted: “You can be a top manager without titles, of course. The managers who have the chance to win titles are at top, top clubs with good investments and exceptional players. Otherwise, it is impossible to win. That doesn’t mean the managers outside the top cannot be excellent managers in tactics, and communication, leading the team, as human beings.”
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Guardiola argued his own success owes much to his former Barcelona teammate, and City director of football, Txiki Begiristain, who has persuaded him to remain at the Etihad Stadium and who he feels is the club’s unsung hero.
“One of the reasons why I extended my contract two times is because Txiki is here,” he said. “We met each other when I was 19. Since then, we have been close friends and we work together incredibly well and when we are winning we try to analyse why and when we are losing we try to analyse why and no one judges the other one, good or bad.
“He's the most humble person I have ever met. He is always behind the scenes and you don't find these type of people in this world because their egos are also so, so high- and I put myself as an example. He’s exceptional.
“It is a joy to work here with people like Txiki. He is an exception, with what he has done in Barcelona, creating one of the best teams of all time and now what he has done now. Man City is incredibly lucky to have this person.”