“Més que un Club” or “More than a Club” is the rather bold motto of one of the giants of World Football, Barcelona. If any week has proven that the extremes of football are extenuated then it has been this week at the Nou Camp. A week of hell for the Catalan club saw them lose their El Clasico derby to a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid; saw a superb defensive performance from Chelsea dump them out of the Champions League at the Semi Final stage and in one last dramatic action of the week, their Head Coach Pep Guardiola stepped down to end a trophy laden tenure in charge. Guardiola as a player was someone I admired greatly and in all honesty, as a coach he only added to that admiration.
Inheriting an already superb Barca side from Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, Pep gave the team a new ethos. Whereas the days of Deco, Etoo and Ronaldinho had brought great success Guardiola set about putting together one of the greatest sides club football has ever seen. The spine of the team was built on players who had come through La Masia, Barca’s famed academy based on the outskirts of the capital of Catalonia. Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Iniesta, Xavi and of course Lionel Messi were the foundation upon which Pep’s Barcelona would be built.
He added genuine talent from La Masia as well with Sergio Busquets brought into the line-up to provide solidity in front of the back four. Perhaps Pep’s best decision was to stop the near-release of winger Pedro and put him in the first team squad. The now Spanish International repaid Guardiola’s faith by becoming the first player to score in six different competitions over one season. Whilst the focus of the pre-Guardiola Barca had been on the brilliant Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho, Pep allowed him to leave and the focus was now on Messi. He became the star of Pep’s Barca and the success started to flow. After four years in charge of the club, Guardiola managed to deliver an incredible thirteen trophies including three La Liga titles and two Champions League titles. For a club whose obsession with the Champions League makes Chelsea’s look like a mere teenage crush, those two victories over Manchester United were iconic moments in the history of the great club that rightly sit beside Ronald Koeman’s winner against Sampdoria at Wembley in the 1992 European Cup Final. For a coach steeped in Barcelona history, this week has hurt and hurt badly.
The pressures of managing the club he loved as a boy have taken their toll. In the hastily arranged press conference to announce his departure, Guardiola admitted he needed a break from football, looking visibly drained from the events of the last seven days. Many say the Catalan legend had an easy job at Barca, given the already outstanding side that he took over but that would be tragically understating the job he has done. His belief in the Academy at Barca can be shown in one telling statistics. Look at Frank Rijkaard’s team selection for the 2-1 Champions League Final win over Arsenal in 2006. Only three La Masia produced players were in the starting line-up. By the time Pep’s Barca had beaten Manchester United in 2009, there were seven graduates of the academy wearing the famous Blaugrana shirt as they lined up to face Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Guardiola has taken the ethos of the famous “Dream Team” of Johan Cryuff’s 90’s Barcelona and evolved it into something that has been admired throughout the football world. It’s no coincidence that Guardiola himself was a key component of the Dutch Legends all conquering team that thrilled Los Cules. Many people are suggesting that maybe the constant mind games and psychological battle with Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have had a negative effect on the mind-set of the former Spain International. Whilst that maybe true to a certain extent, I personally think Guardiola just knew it was time for a change and a break. Certain players within his line-up are nearing the closing stages of their top flight career and maybe he felt a new vision is required.
However, as he leaves the role he loved at the Nou Camp star names like Pedro, Pique and even the greatest of them all Lionel Messi all know they owe the success in recent years and their own progression as players to their former coach. People are questioning whether or not he could manage at another club; to do so is seriously undermining the footballing brain and inventive nature of Guardiola. All seeing, always listening and a manager able to stamp a vision on a team, I have no doubt that we will see another team in football become successful under Pep Guardiola.