On the day Josep Guardiola decided enough was enough and he would leave Barcelona – the question on many people’s lips was the same simple query whatever the language. “Why? ¿Por qué?”
During his press conference, he stated that he was stepping down from his role at the Camp Nou to take a sabbatical from football – admitting in the process he was ‘drained’ and that his four-year stint at the helm of his boyhood team was enough for him.
That reasoning has been questioned by many. How can a manager who moulded possibly ‘the greatest club side ever seen’ be too tired to continue? Especially when he is just 41 years old – a youngster in the managerial world.
After all, Sir Alex Ferguson this season notched up his 25th year in charge of Manchester United. He has not tired from constantly winning and despite regular threats of retirement; Ferguson cannot seem to shake the football bug as easily as Guardiola seemingly has. Another example in the Premier League is Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger who joined the Gunners in 1996 and has never seriously looked in danger of relinquishing his powers.
But what is overlooked in this debate is Guardiola’s constant involvement in the game at the highest level. He joined Barcelona at the age of 13 and has been involved at the upper echelons of football for all but four of those years.
However, if you take a look at Ferguson’s playing career, it is nowhere close to matching up to Guardiola’s. A two-year stint with Glasgow Rangers is the highlight of Sir Alex’s playing days and the same applies to Wenger who never made it higher than the RC Strasbourg first-team where he made a paltry 11 appearances. Guardiola’s biggest rival in Spain, Jose Mourinho, never made it past 100 appearances in professional football. All three of these men have gone on to have glittering success as managers and coaches of some of Europe’s biggest teams and have done so for many years. However, not a single one has had to deal with the mental and physical pressures of playing for one of the world’s biggest teams on a daily basis since they were teenagers.
Guardiola played consecutively for Barcelona’s ‘A’ team for 11 years, missing only the majority of the 1997-1998 season due to a calf injury. He regularly played Champions League football and featured in cup competitions, meaning he will have often played three games in a week. He won 16 trophies and made 263 appearances for Barcelona as well as representing his country in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 and captaining his country’s Olympics side to glory in the 1992 games in his home town. (A disagreement with then-manager Javier Clemente prevented him from featuring at Euro ’96 and the aforementioned calf injury kept him away from France ’98).
In Italy, he also managed to play Champions League and Coppa Italia football. In fact, Guardiola only ever slowed down when he moved to Qatar in 2003 and eventually he quit football after playing six months with Mexican side Dorados in 2006.
Just a year later and ‘Pep’ was back at Barcelona as the coach of the club’s ‘B’ team. It was his first role as a coach, yet he lead the team to promotion and later that season was named as the successor to the departing Frank Rijkaard. It had certainly been an eventful, and no doubt tiring, first year in management for the rookie.
But the pressure that comes with the power of Barcelona manager has seemingly taken its toll on one of the club’s biggest icons. Guardiola has made no secret of the fact he was willing to walk away from the Camp Nou. He only ever signed rolling one-year contracts at the club, giving himself the flexibility to not renew whenever he felt the time was right. There have been incorrect murmurings for the past two summers that he may not sign up for another year, but this campaign has been the defining one for Guardiola.
“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,” he said during his press conference.
“You can only recover by resting and getting away from everything. It would have been a bad idea to continue. Perhaps it [this season] would not have gone wrong but I have the perception that it would. It is my time to go. That happiness to actually be able to take control of the A team was unbelievable and I need to recover that, I need to recover that feeling.”
It is not as surprising as it may first seem that Pep needs a rest period. Having to endure three press conferences a week, spend every day at the training ground from 8am until 10pm fine-tuning the Catalan’s beautiful football philosophy and having to put up with Mourinho trying to shoot you down every day will eventually become arduous enough for any man. But it becomes much harder when you have already spent two decades of your life living football and not recuperating.
However, this will not be the end of Guardiola. The talk is that he will take a year off from the game before viewing his options. There is even the possibility that he could return to Barcelona. The Catalan’s immediately installed Guardiola’s assistant Tito Villanova as the new manager and whilst this seems to be a move that shows stability and continuity, it also leaves the gap open for Guardiola to return after he has discovered his love for the game once more.
He may even be influencing the club from afar next season, saying in his own words: “If Tito needs me, I’ll be there.”