By Charles Boehm
After leading Spanish superclub FC Barcelona back to the loftiest heights in world soccer over the past four years, on Friday Josep “Pep” Guardiola announced his decision to resign from his position as the club’s manager, effective at the end of the current season.
Citing the constant stress and strain of one of the most demanding, high-profile jobs in the sport, the 41-year-old will step away after having led Barcelona to 13 trophies in his tenure, which was his first top-tier head coaching job.
“The reason is simple: four years is enough,” Guardiola told BBC.com and other assorted media on Friday. “I’m drained and I need to fill up. The demand has been very high and a manager must be strong.”
A star of the Barça midfield during his own playing career, Guardiola was nonetheless seen as something of a risky hire when the Catalan club promoted him from his post as reserve team coach to replace the departing Frank Rijkaard after FCB finished in third place in Spain’s top flight in 2008. But he quickly restored the proud Blaugrana to their winning ways by emphasizing slick passing and high-pressure defending throughout the field, and perhaps equally importantly, by helping Argentinean striker Lionel Messi fulfill his massive potential and become the world’s top player.
“We are witnessing the best in every sense. He does everything, and he does it every three days. I’m sorry for those that want to sit on his throne, but this lad is the best. Hopefully we can enjoy his football for many more years,” Guardiola said of Messi after the diminutive star scored his 234th goal for Barcelona to set a new club record earlier this year. “There are few players that dominate in this fashion, and he does it.”
Guided by the thoughtful Guardiola, Barça swept nearly all before them, highlighted by three straight La Liga championships, two UEFA Champions League titles and two World Club Cups. What many fans found equally endearing was his devout dedication to his team’s avowed principles of possession, movement and attacking intent, aesthetic ideals which team leaders like midfield general Xavi Hernandez claimed were equally or more important than the results on the scoreboard.
But eternal rivals Real Madrid launched a hot pursuit of Barcelona, hiring renowned manager Jose Mourinho two years ago and spending millions on top talent like Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo to close the gap between the two teams. That sparked further intensification of the already-intense hatred between the two clubs, who battled for supremacy on both the Spanish and European stages.
FCB vanquished Madrid last year, but could not hold onto La Liga, with Mourinho and his men set to win this year’s league title after a 2-1 beating of Barça at their own Camp Nou stadium last weekend. That result, combined with FCB’s shock loss to England’s Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals, has cast a cloud over Barcelona and led pundits to wonder if their era of dominance has passed.
For Guardiola, it has all become too much to bear. He plans to take a year off from the game.
“At the beginning of December I announced to the chairman that I was seeing the end of my era at Barcelona,” Guardiola said on Friday. “Time has taken its toll – I rise each day and don’t feel the same. I am going with the understanding that I have done my duty.
“You can only recover by resting and getting away from everything. It would have been a bad idea to continue. Perhaps it would not have gone wrong but I have the perception that it would. It is my time to go.”
If and when he returns to management, he’ll have no problems finding a new job, probably anywhere he likes.