Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhat now for Barcelona? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough What now for Barcelona? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

What now for Barcelona?

The rumours began Thursday, but it was finally confirmed Friday morning that Pep Guardiola would be leaving Barcelona at the end of the season. To put it simply, the Spaniard was a revelation with the Catalan giants, winning 13 trophies, which could rise to 14 should they overcome Athletic Bilbao in the Copa Del Rey final, during his four-years with the club.

Of the 239 games that he has been in charge of the Blaugrana, Guardiola has been on the winning side of a little over 73%, which is a remarkable feat in itself. I think it’s fair to assume that with the 41-year-old now set to leave the Camp Nou, he leaves knowing full well that he has assembled one of, if not the, greatest team to every grace the world of football.

What will his departure mean to the club?

Let’s set the record right before delving into anything; Guardiola isn’t responsible for the amazing run of achievements over the past nine years. Credit must go to Frank Rijkaard, who took over the reins at Barcelona back in 2003 and transformed the club from perennial underachievers to the club they are today. Since that the Dutchman took over, and subsequently Guardiola, the club have won 18 trophies in those nine years.

Rijkaard was the manager who turned the fortunes around with the club that were desperately underperforming on the pitch. Without him, none of the recent success would have been possible. Anyway, moving on, the club have, arguably, been playing some of the most scintillating football fans have ever witnessed in the history of the game.

When he was initially appointed into the role, six months after president Joan Laporta wanted the former Barca midfielder to take over from Rijkaard following a poor show of form during the 2007/08 season, many were sceptical about his promotion from the B side to the senior team, myself included.

Granted, he had Barca B playing the tika-take style football that is very much associated with the club, but it was a major step-up, especially with the egos of Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o threatening to derail all the hard work that Rijkaard had done. So Guardiola did which many would have been too fearful to do; he ridded the poison at the club. Ronaldinho was sold to AC Milan, Deco to Chelsea and Eto’o was set to be shown the exit door unless he improved his attitude both in training and on the pitch.

The Cameroonian did just that and scored 36 goals that season, the second highest season total in his career before being sold to Inter Milan at the end of that year. However, his moves to sell the trio instantly instilled respect throughout the squad, and with the team then being built around Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, he won over the admiration of the board.

His belief in the youth system, stemming from his time with the B team, has proven a cornerstone for football club’s around the world. The amount of player’s coming through the ranks within the Catalan side has risen incredibly since 2008, with the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Isaac Cuenca and Andreu Fontas, to name three, all utilised by Pep this season.

They follow on from Guardiola, who came through the famous La Masia youth ranks, current trio Xavi, Iniesta and Messi and two players who recently returned from spells in England; Gerard Pique in 2008, upon Pep’s appointment as first-team coach, and Cesc Fabregas last summer. These five, along with Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol, set the very high platform for success and boosted the credentials of the Catalan favourite.

Either way, his departure has certainly left a platform for success. Whether it will be next season or in the following years, despite the likes of Xavi etc. still performing at the top of their respective games, there is that platform available. However, one is of the opinion that this highly praised Barcelona side is slowly, but surely, coming to the end of its beautiful cycle. But, that is the natural order of things in the world of football. Every club will go through the ‘circle of life’, with apologies to the Lion King reference, but it is true.

Why did he leave?

Exhaustion, tediousness, pressure, there are numerous reason why Pep would have left Barcelona. Judging by pictures of the 41-year-old between 2008 and now shows the strain of managing one the world’s biggest teams can have on a manager. Balding, fatigued and suffering from weight loss, Guardiola isn’t the man that took over the side four years ago.

The drive and passion is still there for all to see, but it appears that the stress of leading the team has got the better of him. Guardiola gave fans of the club the best four years in recent history, yet with it, a lifetime has passed him by in some ways. A well earned sabbatical is in order, but with his infatuation for the game still evident for all to see, it won’t be the longest sabbatical in the history of football. Many believe it will be similar to the time Jose Mourinho spent away from the game before the Portuguese returned a better coach with first Inter Milan and then rivals Real Madrid.

Guillem Balague highlighted the idea of Guardiola travelling to England to further his coaching techniques and improve his overall knowledge of the game. Whether that will be to take over a team in the Premier League in the future, who knows. Nothing but speculation at the present time, but whichever club convinces Guardiola to lead them will be have with them a great manager who knows how to read a game to the highest standard, get the best out of player’s and get his team playing some brilliant football in the process.

His replacement

Marcelo Bielsa was instilled as the instant favourite following the news breaking on Thursday and Friday, while Luis Enrique and Arsene Wenger were also heavily linked with the role. However, Barcelona have opted to appoint from within with Pep’s assistant Tito Vilanova set to step up from next season to manage the first-team. For those unaware of Vilanova, he is the man Jose Mourinho thumbed in the eye during Augusts El Clasico.