Pep Guardiola has enjoyed a trophy-laden spell as Barcelona coach
The former Barca player has led the Catalan giants to 14 major honors
Guardiola has won plaudits for Barca's devastating passing style
His final match was Friday's 3-0 Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola signed off in style on Friday, securing yet another slice of silverware for the Spanish club before embarking on his self-enforced sabbatical.
A 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Cup final saw the all-conquering Catalan coach take his haul of trophies to 14 during his four-year tenure, and even if he decides never to return he will have left an indelible print on the sport.
His final match underlined his approach to the game; the manner of the triumph important as the result. Barca were 3-0 up inside 25 minutes as Athletic were forced to chase shadows, like so many teams that have gone before them.
Guardiola has built on Barca’s pure football principles with a totalitarian approach to “tiki taka,” a style reliant on short passing and dynamic movement, and the results have helped an already successful unit transcend a higher plane.
Guardiola’s vision has been enshrined by fellow disciples of Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy, players like influential Spanish pair Andres Iniesta and Xavi, as well as prolific striker Lionel Messi.
They have helped him deliver three successive Spanish League titles, two European Champions League crowns, two Spanish Cups, two FIFA Club World Cup titles and five further trophies with a soulful swagger that has had many a pundit purring that this is one of the greatest club sides of all time.
Guardiola’s masterstroke has been to morph the basics of Barcelona’s philosophy into a new style of soccer that has confronted convention, according to Spanish football expert Sid Lowe.
“What Guardiola has done to some extent is challenge some of the truisms and clichés of football, such as defending is about sitting deep and denying space for teams,” Lowe told CNN.
“Barcelona have done the opposite, they’ve gone and looked for teams, defended with possession which teams perhaps haven’t done before.
“The challenge, for example, on the use of the word practical or pragmatic, to talk about what is essentially a long ball game, but what could be more pragmatic than winning what Barcelona have won in the last four years?”
Albert Ferrer played with Guardiola during a golden era for Barcelona, when legendary Dutch coach Johan Cruyff led the club to three consecutive league titles and their first European Cup triumph in the early 1990s.
Ferrer believes Guardiola’s innovative, progressive approach to the game was born during that period under Cruyff, himself a staunch defender of Barcelona’s cherished attacking philosophy.
“Pep tried to play simple football,” said Ferrer of his friend, also Catalan born and bred. “He created the philosophy where if you can play an easy pass why would you play a difficult one?
“Barcelona are one of the few teams who always had 70-75% possession in games because of the players they had and the philosophy of keeping the ball. He was very demanding of that – not giving the ball away.
“All the teams now defend against Barcelona and he had to adapt to those solutions. He didn’t always play the same system – with three defenders or four, playing with a ‘9’ (a traditional striker) or without a ‘9’ – always making things difficult for the opposition.
“All the movements he created, with the two full backs pushed forward and the center backs very wide, all started with him.”
Michael Cox, from the Zonal Marking website, attributes the development of Guardiola’s coaching philosophy to how the former Barca captain’s own playing career panned out – where there was a general loss of faith in the deep-lying midfield position Guardiola used to occupy in favor of more aggressive midfielders
He created the philosophy where if you can play an easy pass why would you play a difficult one?— Albert Ferrer
“He had to leave Barcelona as a player and take quite a big drop down to Brescia (in Italy) because, frankly, no good club wanted a player in that mold. Everyone wanted big battlers deep in midfield, like Patrick Vieira, Edgar Davids, Roy Keane, Claude Makelele.
“Now, he’s managed to construct a team featuring four players who looked up to him when they were in the Barcelona youth team: Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas.
“I think almost every big club in Europe has copied Barcelona’s way of playing, to a certain extent, in recent years. It’s remarkable that that is now the way to play football, considering his struggles towards the end of his playing career as a deep-lying passer.”
As ever in the often fickle world of football, Guardiola has his detractors, who attribute his success as a masterstroke of timing, claiming his tenure conveniently began just as a clutch of great players rolled off the famed Barcelona production line.
And while there may be truth in that argument, Lowe believes it was the way Guardiola allied the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets and Fabregas to his own football philosophy that was more pertinent.
Guardiola has struggled to understand the depth of tension that has been created by this rivalry with Mourinho— Sid Lowe
“Guardiola has been the most zealous defender of a certain type of identity – he hasn’t been the creator of that identity,” said Lowe.
“There’s an almost puritanical conviction about how you’ve got to do things. That mindset has its flaws but Barcelona stick to it.
“He was absolutely the right man at the right time with the right squad, the right players around him. It has been a culmination of circumstance but without that identity it wouldn’t have been as clear or as unshakable.”
This unflinching devotion to Barcelona’s cause and the all-consuming nature of the job has taken its toll on Guardiola.
As well as his own meticulous nature combined with the weight of responsibility that comes with being Barca manager, another explosive element – Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho – only added to the pressures on the 41-year-old.
“People close to him have said they’ve been worried about him for a long time,” said Lowe. “That he doesn’t eat as well, he looks skinnier, he’s lost his hair.
“Guardiola has struggled to understand the depth of tension that has been created by this rivalry with Mourinho over the last year. I think he has found that genuinely unpleasant at times and hasn’t known how to deal with it.
“I think those things have all come together to put us in a position where Guardiola thinks, ‘I’ve had too much, it just isn’t enjoyable any more.’”
In typical Barcelona style, at the press conference to confirm Guardiola’s departure, the club announced his erstwhile assistant Tito Vilanova, another pupil of the club’s famous school, would replace him.
Guardiola thinks, ‘I’ve had too much, it just isn’t enjoyable any more’— Sid Lowe
Ferrer, who describes his former teammate as a relaxed individual, thinks Guardiola is calling time on his Barcelona tenure at just the right moment.
“He is the manager who has changed everything,” he said. “He’s been clever in choosing the moment to leave because in Barcelona he will always be welcome and he can have whatever position in the club he wants.”
Guardiola’s self-enforced break may only be in its embryonic stages but for those fearful he will be lost to football forever, his comments prior to his final match should provide reassurance that he will be back to reinvent the wheel again before too long.
“For the next months I have to charge my batteries and charge my mind,” he said. “I am going to rest and I will wait. I will be ready once a club wants me, if they seduce me I will train again.”