FC Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola announced on Friday that he will not continue at the helm of the catalan club next year. The announcement came after Barcelona was eliminated from the Champions League by Chelsea on Tuesday, after seeing their four-year Liga reign effectively ended by Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid on Saturday. Despite the timing of the press conference, Guardiola insisted that he had decided to step down at the end of the season much earlier in the season, and that, "at the end of December I communicated to the club that the end of my era as coach was coming, but I couldn't tell the players."
I have no doubt that Guardiola had decided to step down much earlier in the year: almost every press conference he has give this year has sounded tired, resigned. "Four years is an eternity, and it takes a lot out of you," he said today, "...I've planned to say goodbye for quite some time now."
Guardiola leaves FC Barcelona at the end of one of the club's greatest runs in history: only now, after four years of absolute domination, it looked like we would see the end of the Catalan club's hegemony. Guardiola's place in this legacy of winning is uncertain: he inherited an incredible side, with a footballing mentality that had been forged for many years prior to his arrival. At the same time, he guided that same team from the contenders they had been, to the dominant superpower they became--and for this, he deserves an incredible amount of credit.
As a Madrid fan, it pains me to say this, but I have always respected and admired Pep: he is a great coach, no doubt, but he is also a great person and a classy human being. There were times when all I wanted was for him to break down, to curse someone out, to poke someone's eyer--and he never obliged. And that's something that I will always be impressed by.
It is also unclear what the implications are for FC Barcelona. President Sandro Rosell announced today that bench coach Tito Vilanova, you know, this guy, would take over from Pep once the season ends. I have no doubt that Tito will continue to follow Guardiola's lead, and implement the tiki-taka style that created the Barcelona dynasty; but it is very unclear whether he will be nearly as effective as his predecessor. The next year or so will tell us a lot about Pep's impact, and his ability as a coach: if Barcelona begin to decay, and can't seem to find their rhythm, we can confidently look to Pep as the inspiration for their brilliance; if they regain their form and win the treble, well, maybe their run had less to do with Pep than a certain little Argentinian.