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Thirty-eight days before they took Manchester United apart at Wembley, the players of FC Barcelona sat, tired, defeated, angry and sore, on the playing surface of Valencia’s Mestalla stadium, watching Real Madrid celebrate victory in the Copa del Rey final.
Guardiola’s players assumed the blank expressions which are the mark of the losers at a big occasion. Dull eyes, thousand-yard stares – pain.
It was the second Clasico in three days. Domination and a 1-0 lead had been tossed away in a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in the league then this epic, nerve-wracking cup final was lost to a glorious Cristiano Ronaldo header in extra time. The Champions League semi-final double-header was next.
The argument from the white corner was best summed up when I spoke to Emmanuel Adebayor at Mestalla. “Mourinho told us that Barca are not Robocop,” said the striker. “They are one of the best sides in the world, but they are just human, just players like us, which means if we try to play our football and if you press them high, for sure they will make some mistakes, they will lose the ball. So we just went at them like tigers or lions.
“The team that wanted to win it more was Real Madrid and so we won it."
The night was topped off by the footage which zipped around the world of Sergio Ramos dropping the trophy as Madrid’s bus toured the capital en route to their traditional place of celebration, Los Cibeles, and the trophy emerging battered from under the wheels. It was a metaphor for how Barca felt.
The argument from the white corner was best summed up when I spoke to Emmanuel Adebayor at Mestalla. "Mourinho told us that Barca are not Robocop," said the striker. "They are just human, just players like us."
Reports surfaced that a combination of unfair actions by security staff and poor planning by the Spanish FA left Guardiola’s players stranded out on the pitch, fuming, while Madrid went up to collect the cup and take the acclaim of their delirious fans.
Not true. Guardiola’s consigliere, Manel Estiarte, is a multi Olympian, a gold medal winner and for long periods of his career was the best water polo player in the world. Estiarte was Guardiola’s first appointment when he became first team coach. Advisor, friend, sounding board, protector – Estiarte sees it all, but tells very little. However, he did provide me with rare insight into this key staging post on the journey to Wembley and the Champions League final of 2011.
Gerard Pique sought out every single Real Madrid player, shook his hand and congratulated them. "Losing the final was hard because you know how many people you have made sad, and you feel for your team-mates who have given everything. But sometimes it's your turn to lose," he recalled.
“At Mestalla, it was our choice to stay out on the pitch,” says Estiarte. “In 2009 we had watched Manchester United suffer in Rome and Athletic Bilbao sitting crying in Mestalla after that Copa del Rey [final in 2009, which Barcelona won 4-1]. We admired their dignity and their pride, so we decided we had to stay on the pitch too if we lost. Nobody made us do it.”
Tito Vilanova, Guardiola’s assistant, told me: “I never like losing, but I learned very early that you can’t win every time. If you know you’ve done everything you could and that you’ve had chances, then you accept losing is just part of the game. You take it on the chin and try to improve. You show respect to the other team, just as we did at Mestalla.”
Gerard Pique sought out every single Real Madrid player, shook his hand and congratulated them. “Losing the final was hard because you know how many people you have made sad, and you feel for your team-mates who have given everything, but sometimes it’s your turn to lose,” he recalled.
“I think this team has won the right to lose occasionally, just so long as we show the kind of attitude and Barcelona playing style as we did here.”
With every extract published, Goal.com will be giving away one copy of Graham Hunter's new book. To have a chance of winning an ebook or hard copy of Barca - The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, answer the following question: How many times have Barcelona won the Copa del Rey? Send answers to firstname.lastname@example.org - the winner will be announced in next Friday's extract.
Last week's competition winner: Daniel Essuman