“We have called you today to announce that Pep Guardiola will not continue in charge of the team next season” -Barcelona club president Sandro Rosell. Friday saw the end of an era with Pep Guardiola stepping down as manager of Barcelona FC. He will continue until the end of the current season, after which assistant manager Tito Vilanova will take over for next season. Inedibly the speculation will start as to what the future holds for Guardiola. Will he take the Chelsea job? Will he take the England job or any other vacant position available this summer? But this is really a time to reflect on the success that he has brought to his boy-hood club. Success that has seen him become “the best manager in the history of the club.”
The loss to Real Madrid in La Liga and a failure to over come Chelsea in the Champions League appear to have over shadowed, or slightly tainted what has been an phenomenal period of joy for Guardiola. While these two results may not be favorable it shouldn’t distract from that fact that he has won 13 trophies in four seasons (there is still this seasons Copa del Rey to play for). Two Champions League crowns, three consecutive La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups and three Spanish Supercups have all been won under his guidance. Something that surly even Guardiola couldn’t imagine when he took over from Frank Rijkaard in 2008. Prior to that, Guardiola had only managed the Barcelona ‘B’ side the year before.
As a player Pep made his debut for Barca in 1990 when Johan Cruyff managed the Catalans. He would go on to captain the side and was part of the ‘Dream Team’ that won four league titles in a row. He would remain club captain until he left the club for Italian side Brescia in 2001. He ended his Barca career with six league titles, two Copa del Rey’s and one Champions League title. He appeared for the club 370 times, scoring 11 goals. In the process he became a club icon for the Barca fans. His post-Barca career was not as fortuitous, he was banned from playing for four months in Nov ‘01 for testing positive for nandrolone (twice). He was later cleared of any drug charges after appeal six years later. Pep signed for Roma in ‘02 but did not settle there and after a brief return to Brescia was off to Qatar to join Al-Ahly in ‘03 for two seasons. He returned to Spain in ‘05 to under take his coaching courses which he completed the next year. In ‘06 he announced his retirement from playing and it was in July ‘07 that be became Barcelona B coach.
In 2008 when he took over the senior side, Barca had just finished the season empty handed and in third spot 18 points behind Real Madrid who finished first. Pep’s first act was to rid the side of the players who he felts ego were disrupting the side. Stars Ronaldinho and Deco were jettison while Eto’o stayed but would leave the following season. Pep went about changing the tactics of the side, he deployed three players in the middle of the park (Xavi, Iniesta, Busqets) who all played the game in a similar style to himself. He also went about installing a work ethic that would see his side pressure the opposition into submission as well as enforcing the ‘tiki-taka’ style that would serve the club so well. In his first season the club would win a treble of the Li Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles. The season also featured a 6-2 El Clasico victory at the Bernabeu.
The next two seasons would see the club retain the league title. It also saw the continued rise of star playmaker Lionel Messi- who embraced the move from the wing to the ‘false nine’ position- where he scored freely. Barcelona also continuied to play in a style that would see sections of the media hailing them as one the greatest ever football sides. There were the occasional hiccups- the failure to over come Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League semi-final, the failed experiment of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and losing the Copa del Reye final in 2011 to Real Madrid. Those aside the club’s peak performances were the 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final and the 5-0 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in November 2010.
Through out his time at Barcelona Guardiola has chosen to only sign short term deals with the club. Partially as an incentive to achieve success and also because of his belief that a coach can not stay at a club like Barcelona without the squad and even the coach becoming stale. “Players get tired of coaches and vice versa” he said “The same thing happened to me when I was a player. At a certain point I understood I had to leave.”
This season appears to have taken it’s toll on him. As he said in his recent press conference “Four years is an eternity as Barca coach. With time everyone runs out of steam. I am drained and I need to take a step back and replenish.” He went on. “Every day during four years, the demands are very high, the pressure, the necessary energy to push the players and enjoy it. I need to rest and move away.” This season the club at times has appeared complacent, drawing games they should have won and having to rely on a squad that isn’t the strongest in depth. Barcelona finds itself in second spot, eight points behind Real Madrid and seemly out of the title race. Pep also seems to be tired of the mind games and bickering of Real manager Jose Mourinho.
Most of the Barca squad were present during his announcement. Some were in tears and there was also an applause from those present at the end of the conference. It is a show of respect that a man can command such a response from players and media pundits alike. He leaves the club after managing them for 242 matches (to date) winning 175 games, drawing 46 and losing 21. Thats a winning percentage of 72% for all the statistic junkies out there. Guardiola will leave the club with his head held high and his legacy intact. He has promoted (successfully) a number of players from the B team and installed a style of football has been praised world wide and entertained millions. We can all thank Guardiola for that.