Four years of footballing perfection: can Barcelona go on without Pep?

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

Due to the vast amount of circulating rumours 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 had 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 were not so long ago-against Athletic Bilbao in the upcoming Copa Del Rey final. Guardiola has experienced only glory and success in the majority of his time at the club where he spent 10 years as a player.

The unbelievable haul of silverware has come since he replaced Frank Rijkaard for the 2008-2009 season. A contrasting, lively, enthusiastic Guardiola (with a head full of hair) revolutionised the squad, boldly sending players of Ronaldinho and Deco’s calibre on their way, as they were told they had no 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 EUFA 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 main character in a rollercoaster of an almost fictional tale. He took the reigns of a club who had stalled under Rijkaard, has 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 the captivated hearts of millions upon millions of worldwide football fans.

He has a strong 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 struggles and decline to light, Messi too has seemed almost distant, a shadow of his usual self. After all, how often does the three times Ballon D’Or winner miss a penalty at 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.

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