Guardiola? Pep Guardiola? This name is somehow familiar to you? You mean the football coach? Yes, that’s exactly right. You’ve probably heard of him during the last few days, maybe even read about him in the newspaper. Or was it on TV?

Josep Guardiola is everywhere these days, you can’t escape from him. Therefore it’s about time that I also speak of him. Because I’ve already met him 12 years ago, this guy called Pep.

On the morning of the 23rd of June 2001, I arrived for the first time in Barcelona. In the city, which I’ve read so much about and of which I have already a fairly accurate picture, although I’d never been there before. I am well prepared. Gaudí, La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Parc Güell. The museums of Dalí and Picasso. Bars and restaurants. The things I will see and experience. Later.

But now I’m heading from the airport to the hotel. And then straight to the Camp Nou. I’ve checked the metro connection from our hotel to the stadium already back at home in Offenbach. I’m well prepared, as always.

Only three hours after landing, I enter the museum of the glorious FC Barcelona. My hands are sweating. Everything is impressive, everything is exciting. The proud Catalans have banned each and every memory of traitor Luís Figo from their hallowed halls. Not a single photo remains to remind them of their former hero. Then we discover the ultimate highlight. A poster, announcing a friendly match between Barcelona and my own club, Kickers Offenbach. The date; 25th of December 1952.

We leave the museum. My wife gives me a Barça jersey. No sponsor on the chest, “Markus” on the back, number 12. I’m happy. Fate is kind to me. The next day, FC Barcelona will play the return match in the semi-final of Copa del Rey to Celta de Vigo. We buy tickets. Pretty expensive here. 7.500 pesetas, more than 45 euros. And that’s not even the best seats. At home football is less expensive. But that doesn’t really matter.

The next evening we are back on our way to the stadium. Somehow we feel like we already belong to this. Before the game, we eat tapas in a bar and drink Estrella Damm. Just like real Catalans. Then we go to the Camp Nou. In general, I tend to go to the stadium way too early. I’m afraid that I could miss something. I realise that these fears are not familiar to the Barça fans. Just some minutes before the kick-off the stands get crowded. This leaves plenty of time to enjoy the giant, almost empty bowl. And to attack a Botifarra.

At the end, 45.000 spectators attend a pretty boring game. Barcelona lost the first leg 3-1. Although the team is packed with Dutch stars like Cocu, Frank de Boer, Kluivert, Overmars, Reiziger and Zenden, Barça’s mercenary bunch stumbles fairly uninspired across the turf. Celta is in the lead after two minutes, Kluivert scores the equalizer three minutes later. That’s it. Vigo is in the cup final. No reason to celebrate for the Culés, who are so familiar to success. After the final whistle, all rise from their seats. Suddenly thunderous applause breaks out. On the pitch, Barcelona’s players form a circle and raise one of their team mates to the heavens.

Do you still remember Pep Guardiola? Our fortune has determined that on this evening of the 24th of June 2001, we attend the last game of the club legend in a Barça jersey. After 17 years, he leaves his club, half in dispute with coach Serra Ferrer and president Joan Gaspart. Next morning, the headline of Barcelona’s newspaper Sport is not dedicated to the Catalan’s cup exit, but Guardiola’s farewell. Adeu Pep! I take the newspaper clippings back home and stick them to my photo album. Precious memories of my evening with Pep Guardiola.

Six years later, Pep will return to Barcelona. But that’s another story, and this story is already history, too.

At noon on the 24th of June 2013, exactly 12 years after the day that I met him, Guardiola says “Guten Tag und Grüß Gott, meine Damen und Herren”. But this is a new story.

You can follow Markus on Twitter @Markus_Horn

You can view Markus’ blog here http://markushorn.blogspot.com

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Written by Markus Horn

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