So it is now official. Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola will step down in the summer and hand over the reins of FC Barcelona.
As a player he made over 450 appearances for Barca between 1990 and 2001. As a manager he was appointed into his first ever position with the club in 2008 and swept to 13 trophies. Now, at the age of 41, he is looking at some time off.
It has come as a shock to many, mainly because the former midfielder is leaving behind a team that most felt was impossible to abandon. In his time at Barca, Guardiola has created something precious and delicate, but also something exceptional. He built a team around Lionel Messi, yes, but he did so with players capable of playing breathtaking soccer.
Under Guardiola this Barcelona team has proven that possession football, neat triangles of passing and high tempo with and without the ball can dominate the game for a period. He is staring down defeat for the first time and it must be hard to swallow, but his tiki-taka soccer will always have its fans.
Which begs the question: what now?
For Pep there are options. He will inevitably want to take a luxuriously long holiday, but major academies around the world will want him to present to their kids as a guest, while many other major clubs may want to pick his brains. He has spent time in Italy as a player and he speaks English well, so his next job could potentially be in either major league.
It is an unlikely move, but Roman Abramovich and Chelsea will be approaching his people sooner rather than later.
As for Barcelona, theirs is the most desirable job in world soccer. Marcelo Bielsa of Athletic Bilbao was already the front-runner to take up the post early this morning. He is known as the ‘Madman’ and he has played some incredibly adventurous football with Bilbao this year, turning convention on its head. There were also whispers about former Barcelona captain and current Roma manager Luis Enrique, who is said to be leaving the Italian capital this summer.
However, what happened after Guardiola made everything official came straight out of left field.
Guardiola leaves with his dignity intact and Barcelona still look, for all the world, like they will be a force next year. The reason for this? He has been succeeded by his assistant, Tito Vilanova. Barca’s sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said of the flash appointment: “We chose Tito because he represents the idea and the image. He has commitment and personality.”
So Pep’s vision will live on and, who knows, he may even return there after his break. Until then he will be fielding some calls…