We all knew his impending plan but only when Josep Guardiola confirmed his departure from his beloved Barcelona did the truth of the situation wash over us. Whispers of the Barcelona era being on the brink of collapse may be premature but what is incontrovertible is the Guardiola era has run its course.
He frequently warned us that his long-term future at Barca was unsustainable, citing the factors of fatigue and motivation. Yet fans all over the world held out the hope he would be persuaded to stay for at least another season. It was not to be. He has cut a disconsolate and weary figure this season. When he conceded the title to Madrid he did so with the air of a man accepting his own fate. When Chelsea pulled off the miracle at the Nou Camp, he accepted defeat with willing resignation.
His own team has mirrored his diminishing drive. The likes of Pique and Alves have had well-publicized falling-outs with their boss, and in recent weeks even Messi has been shorn of his usual zip and infectious enthusiasm for the game. As Barca have struggled to maintain the standards they set last season, Guardiola has toiled away to rediscover his own passion. After the defeat to Madrid last Saturday he admitted it was hard to keep his team hungry for four years, he may as well have been talking about himself.
Some will argue he is bailing just at the time his team is in need of evolution and a rethink. To do so would be unfair and myopic. Guardiola has constantly tried to find new ways to keep his Barcelona a step ahead of the rest. Experiments such as Ibrahimovic may not have been as successful as hoped but it showed the managers determination and bravery to try new things. Tactically he has outthought managers of the caliber of Ferguson and Mourinho.
Perhaps his greatest gift was to instill in his talented charges a work ethic that elevated Barcelona from very good to bone fide greats. The wisdom he imparted on Messi in his first few days in charge `you are the best in the world with the ball, now you must be the best without it` has gone down in legend as one the finest pieces of management ever uttered. It was Guardiola who quickly sought to erase the source of Messi`s injury problems and in doing so release the Argentinean’s untrammeled talent. It was Guardiola who welcomed back Pique from Manchester and turned him into the finest defender in the world. It was Guardiola who rectified the Ibrahimovic debacle by bringing in Villa and guiding Barcelona to another Champions League.
For the first three years nearly everything he touched turned to Gold. Even with this seasons travails he could end up with four trophies taking his ratio to 14/19, a simply staggering statistic. His team will go down at the very least the best in 20 years, too many it is the finest of all time. At times the ethereal football exhibited by Iniesta, Xavi, Messi and co has seen Guardiola take a back seat, almost in the shadows. However one look on the touchline would give you a glimpse of the obsessive-compulsive man who extracted so much from himself and his players. Further evidence can be seen in the marked change in his appearance.
There are those who still claim that Guardiola has simply been a lucky recipient of one of the finest collection of players ever assembled. For those people it is worth remembering the same group of players who won nothing under Rikaard in 2008 won the treble under Guardiola in 2009. There are others who claim he is suited only to managing Barcelona due to his playing career and heritage. This argument carries a bit more weight, and it will be determined further when we analyze the success Guardiola has in new pastures and whether Tito Villanova will be able to restore the Catalan luster.
For now though it is best to wish the erudite Guardiola all the best as he takes a well-earned break. He claimed he ever really enjoyed the El Classico battles over the last few years, just another example of his all consuming nature. However when he steps down and has a moment of quiet contemplation away from the machinations and pressures the Nou Camp bring, it will surely bring a smile to his face when he thinks off the great joys his team has given the world in the last four years. Farewell Guardiola and thanks for the memories.
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