FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola will hold a news conference tomorrow. And to paraphrase Andrew Coyne, unless something astonishing happens, he’ll announce to fans and media that he’s stepping down from a position he has filled to much success since 2008.
Observers may recall 2008, a year when Barcelona were down in the dumps. La Blaugrana had been managed since 2003 by Frank Rijkaard, a legendary former defender and defensive midfielder for AC Milan. He had coached the club to a Champions League win over Arsenal and two La Liga titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06
But in 2007-08, the team found itself on a downward slide after losing to Manchester United in that year’s Champions League semi-final. Rijkaard was fired and then-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had been considered for the job but the two sides could not come together due to the “special one’s” aggressive media presence.
Management opted for Guardiola, who had played for Barcelona for most of his professional career as a defensive midfielder. Taking over at the start of the 2008-09 season, he moved away from Rijkaard’s attacking style and stressed the tiki-taka tactic, which involves short passes in midfield and an emphasis on possession.
The style saw many successes under Pep’s tenure, including three La Liga titles, two Champions League titles, two Super Cups, two Club World Cups and a Copa del Rey, but the last season saw the possession tactic wear out its effectiveness
Barcelona were nearly incapable of getting a pass into the opposing team’s box, let alone much of a chance against either Chelsea or Real Madrid. Even Lionel Messi began to look shy in more recent games as defenders watched him with a hawk’s eye to ensure he didn’t get a chance.
The result was that these teams knocked them out of Champions League and La Liga contention, respectively.
By all accounts, Guardiola has done an outstanding job managing this club. He has guided it to great fortune with calm and humility. But there have been missteps along the way. This season he failed to get consistent play out of Alexis Sanchez, whom he acquired on a transfer from Udinese. Alexis saw some success but his goals became more sporadic as the season went on as the error-prone player failed to connect on some great chances.
There was rancour among the Blaugrana ranks also in 2009-10, when Barcelona shipped striker Samuel Eto’o off to Inter Milan in exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The season started well for the club that year but tensions soon became apparent between the manager and his star acquisition as their styles clashed through the remainder of the season.
Zlatan was moved to AC Milan prior to the mega-successful 2010-11 season, which saw the blue-and-claret capture every football title under the sun save for the Copa del Rey.
Guardiola’s news conference tomorrow should be an emotional one, but it’s inconceivable that he would want to stay on any longer. The team has come to the end of a cycle and Guardiola likely feels too much loyalty to this group to make any significant changes. He’ll want the best for a club with whom he has spent most of his working life, as a player and as a manager.