The Pep Guardiola era has undoubtedly been the best and most successful period of FC Barcelona’s history. Never had the club won so much in so little time, and never had the La Masia ideals, the ideals of Johan Cruyff, been so perfectly translated onto the pitch as during these past four years. Not only did Barcelona win, they did it style – a style that earned them worldwide adoration and recognition from fans and neutrals alike.

In four years, thirteen trophies were won – three La Liga titles, two Champions League titles, three Spanish Super Cups, two European Super Cups, two Club World Cups and one Copa del Rey. The Copa remains the only competition that Pep Guardiola hasn’t won more than once during his tenure at Barcelona, something that he will be eager to rectify.

But there’s also a sense of inevitability and closure about it. The first one of these 13 trophies was the Copa del Rey in 2009, in the final against Athletic Bilbao. Ai??Three years and twelve trophies later, Pep Guardiola will have his last match on the Barcelona bench in the Copa final against Athletic Bilbao, this time managed by one of his mentors Marcelo Bielsa. No one could have really asked for a better last match – Ai??a victory over Athletic will make everything come full circle.

Not only that, but the fact that the current Athletic manager is the legendary Marcelo Bielsa only adds to the occasion. Bielsa has been one of Guardiola’s main inspirations, a man who the Barcelona manager always claimed to admire and recently labelled as the best football manager on the planet. It is even more fitting that Pep’s last match will be against his mentor.

The stage is set for a grandiose and memorable farewell for the most successful manager in the club’s history. Although there’s still one La Liga match left to play away at Betis, there’s only one match in the minds of Barca’s players and fans: the Copa Final, the golden chance to put a golden ending to a golden era. Ai??Carles Puyol’s injury is a significant setback in defense, especially with PiquAi?? in doubt, but he will be there to lift the trophy if Barcelona win it.

The end is near, but the legacy will stay forever

.

Lionel Messi has been having arguably his best ever season and he will want to be firing on all cylinders in the Copa final as well. If there’s one player who is especially grateful to Guardiola it’s the Argentine prodigy. The talent was always there, but it was under Pep that Messi became the greatest of this generation and one of the greatest to ever play football. Ai??From the first day, Pep made sure to build his team around Messi and employ him in positions where he could be most dangerous and influential. Ai??Once a tricky winger, Messi has now become a goalscoring machine, as well as a playmaker, who operates mostly through the middle. Ai??While Messi’s talent is immense, Pep Guardiola’s vision and intelligence can’t be stressed enough.

His main merit during these four years has been to make the most of the resources at his disposal; he had found a broken, unmotivated team back in the summer of 2008 (that had just finished third in La Liga) and completely mended it, bringing joy back to the Camp Nou, fully untapping the potential of what is one of the best squads in football history. Even veterans like Xavi and Puyol played their best football under Guardiola. The players love him, the club’s fans love him and so do most football fans.

Pep Guardiola will leave Barcelona and might even not take a manager position again (like Johan Cruyff after leaving Barcelona), but the legacy he leaves is a rich and unforgettable one. It’s a legacy of victories and breathtaking football; he will always be associated with one of the greatest teams there ever was, a team that revolutionized football as we know it under his guidance.

But last impressions matter too, a lot, as most football fans unfortunately have a short memory. Ai??On May 25 at the Vicente Calderon, there will be a lot more than just a Copa trophy at stake for Barcelona. It will be the last stand of a team and a manager who defined an era in the world’s most popular sport and changed it forever. It will be the perfect chance for the cycle of this brilliant team to come full circle.

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