Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola announced he is leaving the club at the end of the season, ending a four-year reign over one of the greatest eras in club football.
“This is not a very easy situation for me,” the 41-year-old Guardiola told a news conference where the club also revealed that his assistant coach Tito Vilanova will take over. “Four years is an eternity as coach of Barca. Time wears everything down, I feel drained and I need to replenish.”
Guardiola apologised for leaving the club in uncertainty for such a long period while he considered whether to extend his one-year contract, which expires in June. But the coach said he wanted to wait until the Champions League and the Liga title were settled before making an announcement.
Plenty of speculations surrounding Pep
The longer he delayed a decision on his future the more speculation grew he might quit and even be lured to another club, with reports linking him to the Chelsea and Inter Milan jobs among others. Some suggested he was in line to become the next England manager but he implied at the news conference that he was planning to take a sabbatical.
He has preferred to renew his Barca contract on an annual basis and waited until February 8 last year before agreeing a new deal. He then went on to capture a third consecutive La Liga title and a second Champions League crown, as well as the Spanish and European Super Cups and the Club World Cup. Their success was built on ball retention with teams fortunate to enjoy 30% of possession against them.
Barca have a chance to claim more silverware this season in the King’s Cup and play Athletic Bilbao in next month’s final. They crashed out of Europe’s premier club competition after a semi-final defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday, and Guardiola has already conceded the Spanish league title to arch rivals Real Madrid.
“The man who is succeeding me will be able to bring something more,” he said, standing up to hug club president Sandro Rosell at the podium after his statement.
Rosell heaped praise on Guardiola.
“Thank you Pep for having perfected a football model,” said Rosell. “The gratitude of Barcelona supporters will be eternal to the greatest coach in the history of our club. Let us be up to managing the legacy you leave us with, especially the remarkable playing system which will forever be remembered as the Pep system.”
After spending most of his playing career at Barcelona, Guardiola coached Barcelona’s B team before taking control of the first-team squad in June 2008 from Dutchman Frank Rijkaard. In his four years at the helm, he has led Barcelona to 13 titles and is credited with promoting some of the most sublime football in the world, helped by huge talent including footballer of the year Lionel Messi.
His successor Vilanova hit world headlines last summer when Jose Mourinho, coach of Real Madrid, poked him in the eye during a brawl on the sidelines of Barcelona’s Supercup victory at the Nou Camp. Vilanova, 42, played only briefly as a professional in Spain’s top flight before turning to coaching at the end of his career and finding his way back to the club of his youth.
“He’s obsessive; he’d keep going until he got it right. He demands so much from himself. And that pressure that he puts on himself, those demands are contagious – it spreads to everyone.”
“Pep immediately transmitted an enormous amount of pride in our work, ambition and hunger. He won our confidence from the first day because we could see that things were being done correctly.”
“He’s one of the few intellectuals I’ve come across in a dressing room, intellectual in the sense he thinks about a lot of things, a lot about football but also about literature and other cultural things.”
“Pep is the secret weapon of this group. Leaving aside the sheer quality of players, he’s a very special talent, one of the best secrets and the most important member of the team.”
“Pep Guardiola was a very intelligent player – I always felt that very strongly when I was on the pitch with him. He knew how to move and was very aware of the movement of others.”
“Barcelona is the best team in the world right now. I knew that when I got there, and I knew it when I left. Guardiola is a fantastic trainer, the problems between us were different.”
“Pep Guardiola has shown that a young tactician can be successful at the highest level. Looking at how he has done so well, It has been my goal to become as successful as him at Ajax.”
“I understand there are not many managers who work without a breather. Maybe he has not shown the stress. You never know from the outside how deeply a man suffers from the inside.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2012.