In what had been predicted to be a headline making week for Barcelona Football Club certainly did not disappoint as they have certainly made headlines all over the World although probably not in the way many of us would have predicted. Having lost almost incredibly to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the Champions League Semi Final, Barcelona welcomed great rivals Real Madrid to the Camp Nou for what some people billed as the La Liga Championship Decider. What better way for Barca to bounce back from that disappointment and to continue to whittle down Madrid’s lead at the top of La Liga.
However, all did not go to plan as goals from Sami Kheidra and almost inevitably Christiano Ronaldo , either side of an Alexis Sanchez goal, condemned Barca to their second defeat in 4 days. And Pep Guardiola looked a withdrawn figure on the touchline as the clock ran down.
Onto Tuesday night and the Champions League second leg at the Camp Nou against Chelsea. Surely, the ‘Catalan Giants’ would overcome a revitalised Chelsea after such a dominating performance in the first leg despite the result. It all looked to be going to plan for Barca after goals from Sergio Busquets and Andreas Iniesta had put them firmly in command in the tie, Chelsea also having lost Gary Cahill through injury and had John Terry dismissed for a ridiculous and reckless knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez. 2 down and down to 10 men at the Camp Nou normally leads to a 5 or 6 goal defeat but not for Chelsea who dug in and scored a quite brilliant goal through Ramires who chipped the on-rushing Victor Valdes after a lovely ball from Frank Lampard, to reduce the arrears to 2-1 on the night and 2-2 on aggregate to put Chelsea back in front in the tie on the away goal.
The second half was expected to be ‘a backs against the wall’ job for Chelsea and it was as Barcelona pressed for the extra goal. The chance they needed came around the hour mark with the award of a penalty kick, when Cesc Fabregas’ went down far too easily after Didier Drogba left a dangled leg in the vicinity of the Spaniard who took full advantage. Lionel Messi who had not managed a goal against Chelsea in six attempts stepped up from 12 yards and crashed his penalty against the bar to keep Chelsea ahead in the tie. Barca kept on probing and some desperate defending, a post and a linesman’s flag all ensured that Barca were kept and kept the tie alive until the 92minute when a Ramires clearance was pulled out of the sky by substitute Fernando Torres who controlled beautifully and rounded Valdes to put Chelsea into the Champions League Final and repay some of his £50 million pound transfer fee. However, that was only the start of the story !
The result surprised many who thought that Barcelona would comfortably overcome Chelsea (although I had a sneaky feeling after the first leg that they would not) but there was a certain spark missing for me from their display. Yes they dominated possession but they just did not look like their sparkling best, at the same time it would be unfair not to praise Chelsea who defended superbly well.
Pep Guardiola had looked very troubled throughout this tie and yesterday we were given the reason as to why he has not looked himself at times this season, as the likeable Spaniard confirmed that he was stepping down as the Barcelona boss due to the pressures of the job and the fact that he has stopped enjoying his role. Guillame Baleague today confirmed that Guardiola has been thinking about this for 6 months and not as a knee jerk reaction to some disappointing results. Barcelona have today named Tito Vilanova (current Assistant Manager) as the man who will replace Pep Guardiola as head coach next season.
When Guardiola took the job it was on a 3 year agreement and Pep was very conscious that he only wanted to manage for that particular length of time. However, and not surprisingly Barcelona wanted Pep to carry on for another season (this season) due to his unprecedented success and the way he has moulded this Barcelona side to play a special type of football but also in the hope that he would possibly re-consider his original idea of relinquishing the reigns too early. Guardiola was determined though not to out stay his welcome and in an interview with Baleague stated that he remembered that another great manager Johan Cruyff stayed two years longer than he should have done and Pep did not want to go the same way.
As a player Guardiola had done the same thing with Barca, moving on when he felt the time was right for a new challenge although at the time it was reported that the Catalan club did not offer him a good enough contract. Guardiola has since rebuked that idea and stated that it was for football reasons not financial that he left the club.
Pep was appointed coach of the Barcelona ‘B’ side and brought in Tito Vilanova as his assistant to help him. Together they developed the players and a strategy that has really taken Europe by storm. The slick passing game that was initially inherited from Frank Rikjaard’s team has been crafted on top a game plan that involves the team almost playing ‘small sided games’ all over the pitch. The players also have 6 seconds to get the ball back after they lose possession before retreating into their positions. As mechanical as it sounds, it is something to be admired when it is carried out by such architects as Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Villa and Alves to name but a few, and it is something that most teams find almost impossible to defend against.
This philosophy was crafted by Guardiola and is now used right through the Barcelona sides right down to the children’s teams. This is in the hope that they produce a few more Messi’s, Xavi’s and Iniesta’s in the future.
When Guardiola took over from Frank Rijkaard as first team Coach / Manager or whatever you want to call the role, Barcelona had just finished 18 points behind league winners Real Madrid. The Barca side already contained Messi, Xavi and Iniesta but Pep promoted Sergio Busquest whom he had worked with from the B-team and added Gerard Pique and Dani Alves. This strengthened the side but Guardiola wanted to put his own stamp on the team and brought his own footballing philosophy to the forefront and created what some have called the ‘Greatest Ever Club Side’.
For Pep Guardiola, possession was 9/10ths of the law and he is credited with being the man who turned Barcelona in to a side for whom possession is king. Barcelona’s midfield players consistently reach over 90 per cent success rate in their passing alone which is a quite staggering percentage, they simply out-pass every team they come across. They move the ball about so quickly and like I have already stated they appear to play ‘small sided games’ all over the pitch and use tight possession and touch play superbly well. Guardiola an elegant midfield player himself has crafted this style and it is so sharp and sleek that the phrase ‘pass the opposition to death’ comes to mind when they are in full flow !
For me the other thing Guardiola has instilled in Barca is how hard they work when they do not have the ball (I know that is not very often). It is incredible that such a talented team can work so hard but again it is testament to Pep that they believe in his methods so fully that the hard work goes almost hand in hand with the possession game.
It requires fitness and dedication and a belief in your manager to put that effort in so you can reap the rewards. Some have said this is the ‘hardest working Barca team ever’ and that is down to Guardiola end of story.
Guardiola also changed the way Barcelona are perceived Worldwide, he no longer wanted ‘luxury’ players such as Ronaldhino, Rivaldo and even Ibrahimovic. Pep wanted hungry, energetic and talented young players and ensured that at youth level in the La Masia Academy, everyone is taught the same way so that if the opportunity arises they can slot into the side. That way it ensures a continuity as well as progression and this philosophy has been evidenced this season through players such as Tello, Cuenca and Adriano.
What Guardiola has done is create a production line of young players who are taught the right way with his philosophy in place and that will be his legacy at this great club.
Pep Guardiola leaves Barcelona as the coach who has achieved the biggest trophy haul in club history: two Champions Leagues, three Ligas, two Clubs World Cups, two European Supercups, one Copa del Rey and three Spanish Supercups, after starting his relationship with the club as a ballboy, before becoming youth team captain and eventually a European Cup winner as a player.
Guardiola leaves this Summer and all eyes will be on Tito Vilanova to see whether Barca’s promotion from within philosopy can continue to bear fruit for them in the coming seasons.
As far as Pep Guardiola is concerned, his comments today that ’4 years as a coach is an eternity’ is a clear indication to me that he is a man who needs a break from football. He has spoken about not having enough passion to do the Barcelona job anymore due to the stressful demands of the role and the expectation of not only the supporters but the media also. When Pep does decide to return to the game he will not have any shortage of offers from clubs all over the world and it will certainly be interesting to see who he decides to join for his next challenge. Watch this space…