Barca end a terrible week on a high as Pep tutors Tito
Barcelona rounded off a rollercoaster week with a 7-0 drubbing of Rayo Vallecano – out of Europe and with the league already conceded by Pep Guardiola, the pressure lifted and Barcelona were able to enjoy themselves once again.
The Copa Del Rey final on May 25 will mark Guardiola’s final competitive game in charge at the Camp Nou, bringing down the curtain on a four-year reign that has yielded a ton of trophies.
Announcing his decision not to extend his contract at an emotional press conference, Guardiola weariness with football was apparent, but almost immediately speculation began as to when he would comeback – and possibly more importantly, where. If his career as a coach continues to mirror his time as a player, there are some rocky times ahead.
This is the second time Guardiola has left Barcelona; after a glittering career as part of Johan Cruyff’s “dream team”, when he departed as club captain in 2001 he did so empty-handed, as Barca failed to win a trophy in his final season.
In what seemed an odd move at the time, he moved to Brescia in Italy before stints in Qatar and Mexico, but the twilight years of his club career never came close to echoing the success he enjoyed at the Catalan club that raised him.
Six years after his departure as a player, he returned to the Camp Nou to coach the reserve team and he became a winner once again, winning promotion with the Barcelona B team before taking over from Frank Rijkaard.
Guardiola has already been linked with London club Chelsea, and no doubt he will be linked to every top job that becomes vacant this coming summer. But the 41-year-old will need to be very careful about the next job he takes on – despite all he has achieved to date, his methods are not guaranteed to succeed elsewhere.
Everything he has achieved as both a player and a coach has been done surrounded by Barcelona players, and has been steeped in the traditions of the club. Many of those who won promotion with him with the Barca reserves went on to become loyal servants in the first team.
Others, like Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, were schooled at Barcelona before leaving for England and then returning – despite their Barca heritage, both players had to work hard to adjust to Guardiola’s game plan. And if players raised at the club have these difficulties, what chance does a whole new dressing room adapting to his methods?
Immensely intelligent with an obsessive attention to detail, Guardiola’s basic tactics have remained true to Barcelona’s heritage, and his tactical tinkering has amounted to moving players around within the system, rather than trying to change it. It is hard to imagine him suddenly sending out a team to play 4-4-2, or ordering his side to start playing long balls in desperation.
It might also be difficult for him to inherit players who simply don’t understand his way of seeing the game, or those who cannot adapt to it. There are few other clubs in the world who can offer the embarrassment of playing riches that he had at Barcelona.
A decent outside bet might be for Guardiola to take over from Vicente del Bosque as manager of the Spanish national side. Taking on that job would give him breathing room at the same time as keeping him involved in football.
He would be out of the pressure-cooker atmosphere the Camp Nou but still operating at the highest level. Added to that, he would still have contact with players and a tactical structure that will be familiar to him from his time at Barcelona.
As Barcelona’s performance at Vallecano this weekend showed, the shackles are now off and the possibilities are many.
Probably the only one that can be ruled out at this stage is him taking over from Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid – other than that, anything can happen.
PHOTO: Barcelona’s coach Pep Guardiola (R) and his assistant coach Tito Vilanova talk before their Spanish first division soccer match against Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas stadium in Madrid April 29, 2012. Guardiola will leave Spanish soccer giants at the end of this season and will be replaced by Vilanova. REUTERS/Sergio Perez