On the 1st November, Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola took charge of his 200th game as manager of Barcelona, hitting the Czech side Viktoria Plze for four in the Champions League, recording his 144th win in the process. It was a fitting accompaniment that Messi, arguably the greatest player Guardiola has mentored during his tenure, marked the occasion with a hat-trick, bringing up the 500th goal scored by Barcelona under the Catalonian; an astounding achievement in 3 and a half years.
Guardiola’s achievements to date are made even more remarkable for it being his first real managerial post, having previously only coached the Barcelona B side. Upon his appointment at the start of the 2008/09 season he made what turned out to be an inspired decision, though at the time rocked the club, in revealing that Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto’o would not be part of his plans for the season. Having all won major honours with the club including a Champions League medal, as well as comprising the core of the Barcelona team’s success it sent shockwaves through Spanish football. In their place, Guardiola placed home grown talent at the centre of his philosophy, building a team around the likes of Messi, Xavi, Puyol and Valdes, whilst bringing back Gerard Pique from abroad, who had originally blossomed in Barcelona’s La Masia youth system.
Vindication doesn’t quite cover how Guardiola must feel after twelve titles and a win percentage of 72% (144 wins from his now 201 games in charge). The statistics don’t lie and the figures are astonishing, considering how little managerial experience he has had. Guardiola claims to be influenced by the great Johan Cruyff whom he played under at Barcelona as a player, and who led the Catalan side to eleven major honours in his time at the club, an achievement Guardiola has already surpassed.
The style of football that Guardiola has installed in Barcelona, mastered in a surprisingly short space of time, is perhaps what should be celebrated most. After Rijkaard’s departure, Guardiola’s Barcelona became more disciplined, focusing on possession whilst implementing a brutally effective pressing game. Their brand of possession football and slick passing is the most beautiful football on the planet, a style challenged only by Arsenal, who have yet to achieve a similar level of brilliance. Guardiola is at present embarking on his next generation of young stars, each hoping to muscle their way into the first team and possibly replace the likes of Carlos Puyol and Xavi who are reaching the end of their careers. Young blood such as midfielder Isaac Cuenca, creative spark Sergi Roberto and 17 yr old Gerard Deulofeu, who is believed to have potential similar to that of Messi, are all beginning to press their claims for places amongst the first team. Whatever the future holds for Barcelona, the squad is looking full of talent. Whether Guardiola will be around to see this talent is a different matter.
One of Guardiola’s best signings Dani Alves has admitted that the boss will leave the Camp Nou at some point. Guardiola’s contract expires in June 2012 having signed a one year extension to his previous deal. In an interview with Italian broadcasting channel Rai Sport at the end of last season, Guardiola said, ‘’My time at Barcelona is running out…..I’m fine here, but when you’re at a club like this you cannot stay for too long. Next year will be my fourth consecutive season as coach of Barcelona….Such a club must have a lot of courage to have a coach for so long, because the players get tired of coaches and vice-versa’’. Quotes like these fit in with theories that Guardiola has lost his spark for Barcelona and is yearning for a new challenge. Hushed talk of a potential year out of management being just over the horizon, in order to recapture his love for the game adds fuel to the ever burning rumour fire. Such a challenge will certainly be found further afield with the likes of Manchester City ,Manchester United and Chelsea all being linked with his possible future appointment. If such a move was to happen it would be interesting to see if the success he has brought to Barcelona can transfer to other projects, with many believing his success predominantly down to the brilliant squad he inherited and not so much down to his individual skill.
Whatever happens in the long career Guardiola still has left ahead of him, we can be sure it will be filled with a brand of football full of beauty and class, and an attitude to win rivalled by few. Instead of speculating, we should be thankful for what he has given the game so far; the football, the team he has managed, and the records he has broken, as well as individual occasions like the 6-2 drubbing of arch enemy Real Madrid at the Bernebéu in 2009, and the two Champions League triumphs against Manchester United. Personally my favourite moment of Guardiola’s time at Barcelona is the video he showed his team in the dressing room before the 2009 Champions League final in Rome against United. It encapsulates everything the man is, class, style, determination, but most of all passion, the likes of which you wouldn’t expect to radiated from such an inexperienced manager. To achieve what he has in management at such a young age is unbelievable, and we eagerly wait to see what else the future holds for him.