Friday, 7 December 2012

The End of an Era (April 2012)

The previously unimaginable fears of many were confirmed on Friday morning as Pep Guardiola, Barcelona's most successful manager ever, confirmed he would be leaving the club at the end of the season at an anxiously awaited press conference.


Due to the vast amount of rumours circulating since Thursday evening, it seemed increasingly likely that the Catalan would step down as manager; especially after the recent, decisive Clasico resulted in a traumatic loss for Barça, as did the two-legged semi-final against the revived Chelsea. The holders were omniscient in possession, consuming over 70% of the ball in all three frustrating matches, which has famously become the signature style of Guardiola's Barça. 

Trophy number 14 is still on the cards for the 41 year-old, if he can renovate his side to perform fluently and gracefully-as they have been until recently-against Atletico Madrid in the upcoming Copa Del Rey final. Guardiola has experienced only glory and success in the vast majority of his time at the club where he spent 10 trophy-laden years as a player.

The unbelievable haul of silverware has come since the Catalan replaced the mismatching Frank Rijkaard for the 2008-2009 season after leading Barça B to promotion in the lower Spanish leagues. A lively, enthusiastic Guardiola (with a head full of hair) revolutionised the squad, boldly sending players of Ronaldinho and Deco's calibre on their way, informing them that they had no further involvement with the soon to be clockwork-like Barcelona side. It seemed the bond between squad and coach was unbreakable; two UEFA Champions League trophies, two FIFA Club World Cups, three La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey, three Supercopa de España trophies and two UEFA Super Cups later, and the marriage is over. A much balder, greyer and visibly exhausted Guardiola sombrely tells the world he is to leave because, aside other factors (including him being
“drained”), he stated that "four years is enough".

Over those four wonderful years, Guardiola has been the protagonist on a rollercoaster of an almost fictional journey. He retrieved the gravitating reins of a club who had stalled under Rijkaard, maximised the majority of his player's potentials and in doing so, modestly won not only numerous individual awards including FIFA manager of the year, but captivated the hearts of millions upon millions of worldwide football fans.

He has an incomparable, almost parental bond with the incomparable Lionel Messi, which has told in more ways than one: adjacent to Guardiola's peak as manager, Messi has held a simply god-like status, brushing off competitors (literally and metaphorically) as if they didn't exist, whilst sharing
that modest attribute to his personality. In recent games, which has brought Guardiola's personal struggles and unexpected decline to light, Messi too has seemed almost distant, a shadow of his usual self. After all, how often does the three-time Ballon D'Or winner miss a penalty at the Camp Nou like that agonising spot-kick against Chelsea? 

The father of three has been known to move on from Barcelona without much of a reason in the past, as a player. However, thankfully, this time the watching, listening world were silent as Guardiola allowed us inside his mind at Friday's press conference. The trio of Guardiola himself, club president Sandro Rosell and sport director Andoni Zubizarreta revealed all as Xavi, Messi and Puyol, to name a few of the players, looked on emotionally.

"At the beginning of December I announced to the chairman that I was seeing the end of my era at Barcelona," said Guardiola.
It would have been a bad idea to continue," he proceeded. “Perhaps it would not have gone wrong but I have the perception that it would. It is my time to go."

Surprisingly, Zubizarreta revealed that Guardiola's assistant, Francesc 'Tito' Vilanova, would be taking over at the start of the 2012/13 season, stating,
"What do we have here at home? Tito." 

Vilanova's career is significantly less colourful compared to his predecessor; he too was a member of
La Masia; he became friends with Guardiola whilst in the youth system, and they both played for Barça B. However, Vilanova's playing career far from escalated-he made appearances for small clubs in Catalonia before joining Barcelona's coaching staff. Guardiola described his assistant as "a great choice" for the club. Vilanova may well share a similar playing and coaching ethos, in which case it is possible that Barça's stereotypical play will remain the same into next season at least. However, as we witnessed with Guardiola, the Catalan club may be about to have another gigantic, unknown twist on its hands. 

Guardiola has already made one return to the Nou Camp; being only 41, there is nothing to say a distant reunion cannot happen. Nevertheless, as the Spaniard takes a well deserved, year-long break from management, one question will be on everyone's mind: Where next? That, however, is another story.

Undoubtedly, Barça fans will miss their talisman’s charismatic reactions of jubilation from the touchline. He leaves a unique, timeless legacy in his footsteps that is already in the history books and forever will be. His departure may well signify the dispersion of several members of the current squad, as players like Dani Alves are already being linked with the wealthy, future European giants Anzi Makhachkala amongst others.

Wherever Guardiola appears next is his choice and his challenge, and therefore the world will be eagerly watching, and will always remember and revisit those precious, inconceivable and utterly unfaultable four years of footballing perfection.
Gràcies Pep!

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