The king is dead! Long live the king. It is a line said by millions of people over the centuries, in different languages and in monarchies around the world. The essence is the same and is appropriate with respect to FC Barcelona as well. An era is over and it is time for a new one to begin.

Pep Guardiola, yesterday, called time on his career as manager with FC Barcelona. The significance of such a decision will most likely see Ai??ripples that will extend throughout the footballing world. There are a few quotes that would help describe Pep Guardiola as the legend he is at Barcelona, but not entirely.

Indeed, to most CulAi??s (at least the ones who have been following the club before 2008) Pep Guardiola had already written history. This was the ball boy, who became their captain and won Barcelona their first European cup (predecessor to the Champions League) and even when he decided to leave Barcelona as a player, there was never any doubt that one day Guardiola would return.

Pep Guardiola - A true legend

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People who knew him as a player (including his team mates) would attest to the fact that Pep Guardiolaai??i??s best attributes was his ability to use his intelligence and then having the vision to execute what he imagined. It is that football intelligence, however, that makes him a great coach.

Statistics are only the tip of the iceberg but itai??i??s probably a good way to start. Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona won 13 trophies in four years (out of a possible 17). ai???The boy from Santpedorai??? as he is affectionately known among fans of the club has a chance to make that 14 if Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa Del Rey on the 25th of May. To put that into perspective, all time football great and innovator Johan Cruyff won 11 trophies in 8 years as manager of Barcelona.

Under Guardiola, 24 academy players have made their official debut with the first team in the 4 years he has spent as manager of Barcelona. That is not to say that Barcelona didnai??i??t spend in the transfer market, in fact it can be argued that Pep spent quite a bit and not all were successful purchases. However the counter argument is that Pep has been a manager for four years. For a man, still considered young and inexperienced as far as managers are concerned, the 41 year old Spaniard has made some good investments in Javier Mascherano, Seydou Keita, Dani Alves and Gerard Pique.

And yet, it still doesnai??i??t describe the team that he has created. The core of this current Barcelona side, that is being hailed as the greatest football team the world has seen, exists of players that were with the club before Pep. Players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi had all been playing under Frank Riijkaard. In 2007, that core (with support from players of the caliber of Ronaldinho,Deco and Samuel Etoai??i??o) were 18 points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid. Pep Guardiola walked into a side that had superstars or superstars in the making and had the guts to make changes like selling Ronaldinho and Deco. But his biggest achievement has to be that ai???tiny fellowai??? ai??i?? to quote Rio Ferdinand – from Rosario, Argentina.

There are good coaches and then there are great coaches. It takes a great coach to realise how important it is to have a personal relationship with your best player. At a time when Barcelona were disputing the Argentinian FAai??i??s request to take Lionel Messi for the Olympics (via the CAS or the court of arbitration for sports), Pep Guardiola stepped in to take a gigantic risk by backing the player over the club. In hindsight, one realises just how big a risk this was. Barcelona were at the risk of bowing out of the Champions League if Messi wasnai??i??t available for selection (or worse if he got injured) and yet Guardiola knew just how important the Olympics was during his own playing career and chose to put his foot down and allow Messi to leave.

In hindsight, there are a few points that can be derived from this. First, the year 2008 (his first as manager of the first team) was a make or break season for him. Barcelona went on to win all six competitions that they were fighting for. Second, Lionel Messi did return healthy and fit but moreover he got a gold medal at theAi??OlympicsAi??which instantly formed a close friendship between the player and manager that would bring huge dividends over the next four years.

Then came the tactical moves that defines his brilliance as a manager. There are so many instances that it would be difficult to choose one over the other. However, some do stick out like Lionel Messiai??i??s move from a winger to a central striker and the now famous ai???false No.9ai??? role. The diminutive Argentine has improved to the point that just the fact people compare him to Maradona and Pele is a testament of how much Pep Guardiolaai??i??s influence has helped Messi become the player he is.Ai?? Since Guardiolaai??i??s arrival, the following are Lionel Messiai??i??s statistics:

2008-2009: goals – 38; assists ai??i?? 18

2009-2010: goals – 47; assists ai??i?? 11

2010-2011; goals – 53; assists ai??i?? 24

2011-2012; goals – 63; assists ai??i?? 26 (ongoing)

Then there are the tactical moves that make journalists like Jonathan Wilson drool, namely: Sergio Busquets. This was a player who replaced Yaya Toure. A decision that is still contested by some but the sheer brilliance of playing Busquets as the pivot (a role Pep understands only too well especially since Busquets was a player that he coached in the B team and promoted) simply cannot be understated. Sergio Busquets is a player in the mold of Guardiola, his intelligence to move from midfield to defense can be credited as the sole reason Barcelona are allowed to play the way they do. The reason their full backs can attack and play almost as wingers. The reason that Barcelona can play 3 at the back and definitely the reason that Barcaai??i??s transition from defense to attack and vice versa has been so smooth and fast.

All that aside, Guardiola is more than than just a manager. He is more than the trophies and the tactical knowledge. It is the principles that really stick out. Like the man himself said in yesterdayai??i??s press conference, it is the pride that fans have, not in winning but in how they won. Pep Guardiolaai??i??s undying belief in that football has to be played in a certain way, that despite the 22 players there is only one ball on the pitch and he wanted it. Barcelona could one day lose by a large margin (maybe even a manita against bitter rivals Real Madrid) and this could happen in the near future as well, but thanks to Pep Guardiola, they will lose that game while doing everything in their power to stay true to that philosophy that was passed down from the days of Rinus Michels to Johan Cruyff and to Pep Guardiola. They will lose that game while trying to control possession. It is the natural evolution really but Pep Guardiola has perfected what Cruyff and Michels only dreamed of. If as a neutral fan of the beautiful game, you ever find yourself doubting his brilliance, just look up any of the hundred videos of Barcelona pressing to regain possession because that would probably be the legacy that Guardiola leaves behind. Hard work,class and genius in equal measure, that is Pep Guardiola.

CulAi??s will be praying and hoping that his successor, Tito Villanova, does well but somewhere deep down, everybody knows that Guardiolaai??i??s shoes just might be too big to fill.

___

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One Response to “Pep Guardiola Calls It A Day At Barcelona”

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  1. Actually Guardiola made Barcelona a more efficient unit. They were a far more spectacular and flamboyant team that played a brand of possession football that was high on style and individual skills when needed. Rijkaard’s Barcelona employed the 4-1-2-2-1 with Ronaldinho and Messi on either flanks showcasing their best individual skills in the process of feeding Eto’o. I still feel that hadn’t it been for Rijkaard’s laidback approach to take control of the dressing room; we might have seen a far more superior team that had at least 2-3 years left in them. Barcelona still had on an average 65% possession under Rijkaard; somehow people don’t notice that or maybe Barcelona became noticed only during Guardiola to the common man. I would any day pay to watch the Barcelona of Rijkaard. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1uOWJFldqI