Pep Guardiola is one of the very few people in football who does not find his Barcelona side irresistible. Despite having one of the great teams in history and savouring their triumph in the Champions League, the manager is still determined to leave when his contract expires next summer. The present deal only applies at all because Guardiola agreed to a one-year extension in February.
For him, the idea of working with inferior footballers is almost whimsical, rather than alarming. “I will ask, ‘Where are the players?’ and have problems finding them. Maybe that will be the challenge for me. In that moment all I can do is try to play as well as possible.”
There was an undercurrent of ambition to the remark, as if Guardiola wants to demonstrate that he can succeed even when he no longer has his present advantages. As it is, the manager has still had to put his imprint on Barcelona despite being in charge only since 2008, following a season running the B team.
He has at his disposal a group with strong bonds. Carles Puyol, following knee surgery, had made only three appearances since January, but the club captain did not hog the limelight when he came on after 85 minutes. Instead, he invited Eric Abidal, who had surgery for liver cancer in March, to wear the armband and lift the trophy.
This is a group that ought also to have the trust in one another born of success. Seven of the players who appeared at some stage at Wembley had been in the starting line-up when Spain beat Holland to win the World Cup last summer.
Their club manager has not tried to grab credit and, in any case, David Villa’s move from Valencia to Barcelona was only confirmed in May 2010. Guardiola would not suggest that he has been the making of a footballer who cost £34-million.
So far he has avoided all temptation to act as if he were any sort of overlord, yet there is a restlessness within Guardiola that tends to characterise outstanding managers.
It is easy to be magnanimous in victory, but Guardiola’s regard for his beaten rival felt sincere: “I have even more admiration for Sir Alex Ferguson now because they have been in three Champions League finals in four years,” the Spaniard said. “My admiration is that any manager can be at the same club for 25 years. That would be impossible in Spain or Italy.
“I know people say, ‘Pep Guardiola is good’, but if I missed one year I’d be fired. It’s different. I find it hard to imagine one coach at a huge club for 25 years, building one team and then having to bring in new players and create new teams time and again.”
Ferguson, for his part, can hardly comprehend why Guardiola plans to stand down so soon: “If he’s really considering that,” said the Scot, “he’ll never have this experience again. That’s for sure.” From a pragmatic perspective, though, the departure of Guardiola from Camp Nou cannot come soon enough for the other leading clubs. —