The Champions League quarter-final play-offs begin this week and Laureus Ambassador Fabio Capello, one of football’s greatest managers, is predicting a thrilling game as FC Barcelona play Bayern Munich on Friday, a match which he says will be of massive importance for Lionel Messi.
Speaking to Laureus.com, Capello says he feels Barcelona need to win this match if super star Messi, who is the current Laureus World Sportsman of the Year, is to have a chance of winning a seventh FIFA World Player of the Year Award.
He said: “Messi has played really well, but I don’t know if he can win the FIFA award again this year. I think teams who do well in the Champions League could be very important in deciding who wins the award.
“I think if Barcelona beat Bayern and reach the semi-final, Messi can be a strong candidate and it is possible he can win the FIFA Award. But if they do not, I think someone else will win this award. For me, De Bruyne, Lewandowski or Neymar.”
Can Barcelona win? Capello feels they are facing a lot of challenges at the moment.
“Barcelona lost La Liga and the only chance to win something this year will be the Champions League. These are difficult moments for Barcelona. They tried to buy the Inter forward Lautaro Martinez but they have to wait. They have to sell some players to buy other ones.”
Capello also has respect for the team which Bayern have put together, coached by Hansi Flick.
“In the second part of the season, I watched many of the games in the Bundesliga. Bayern did really well. They found Davies, the left back, who is really good, really fast. Also Lewandowski scored 11 goals in the Champions League. And Müller, Neuer, Gnabry – it’s a really dangerous team.
“Also for me, they are good physically and technically. The new manager found a good balance on the pitch. All the players run. All the players help each other. The quality is really good.”
Capello feels that Bayern Munich will have the edge, and will go through to the semi-finals, probably to meet Manchester City, who play Lyon in one of the other quarter-finals. He believes Manchester City, under Pep Guardiola, have the opportunity to become one of the top teams in the world.
“Man City is the new team. I think they have a really important future if Guardiola stays with this team, like Ferguson with Manchester United. Guardiola is changing his style. When he was at Barcelona, he played the famous tiki-taka, but now it has changed a lot. When he recovers the ball, they go really quickly to create openings for the goal, with fantastic players like De Bruyne, Sterling, Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus.
“Lyon is one of the oldest French teams. They play really fast and strong. Not a lot of quality, but it can be difficult to score against them, but I think the teams in this semi-final will be Manchester City and Bayern Munich.”
Capello’s own Champions League highlight came in 1994 when a seriously under-strength AC Milan team beat FC Barcelona, then coached by Johan Cruyff, 4-0.
He recalls: “We did not have Van Basten, Baresi, Costacurta, Lentini. All of the journalists said it would be easy for Barcelona to beat this Milan team. But we prepared really, really well and we scored four goals.
“Without Baresi and Costacurta, we had to change completely the back four. When we started the game, we tactically decided to press Guardiola and Koeman, because they were the players most dangerous with the ball. It was good that my Champions League win was against a really important team like Barcelona, with an important manager like Cruyff.”
Looking back, who does Capello rate as the greatest Champions League team in history?
“I think there are six teams: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Ajax. They are the best in different periods. Ajax won three titles in three years. It was Cruyff's Ajax. Real Madrid in the most recent period – and then Barcelona and Real Madrid together, because Spanish football won seven titles in the last 11 years. Also, Liverpool won after a long time. They won the title six times and history is really important in this competition.
“But it’s impossible to compare one against another. Football moves on and changes all the time. A lot of teams created something new. Ajax made something new. Milan made something new. Barcelona made something new. There are different styles for different moments. You cannot say if these same teams could win the Champions League now.”
As an ambassador for Laureus, Capello supports the work of Laureus Sport for Good. For 20 years, Laureus has been committed to bringing people together and building bridges between communities and individuals. Today there is more need for this than ever as the nations of the world co-operate to beat coronavirus.
Capello said: “We all need to be united at this time and it is important for a big sport like football to show a good example and contribute to charity.
“We had some problems in Italy and you have the lockdown for three months. My grandchildren stayed home for three months. They studied, but it was not the same. Children need to go out, to run, to play with the other children. I think, for the future, it will be difficult to find something to help all these children to return to normality.
“Also, a lot of people need help. I think all the famous people have to do something to help these people, because we need to do really important things, and to be involved in this charity will be for me really important.”
Laureus Sport for Good is a global charity that supports children and young people by using the power of sport to end violence, discrimination, and disadvantage. It operates under the fundamental belief that the achievement of this ambition is best delivered by ending the social issues that affect the younger generation and changing their lives for the better.
Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost 6 million children and young people since 2000. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.