It has been three weeks since Pep Guardiola shook the football world with his resignation. It was a decision that he had made last summer, claiming that the stresses of coaching, arguably the world’s greatest club, had become too much.
Guardiola had to keep it to himself for the better part of the season, as he was not allowed to mention his decision to the players. Weeks later, FC Barcelona fans and press members alike are still stunned. Witnessing the farewell made one feel like the world was mourning the loss of a great President, or the Pope. Many still have yet to make up their minds; was Pep’s decision a respectable one, or simply an easy way out, after a season that failed to live up to expectation?
True to form, the FC Barcelona family appointed from within, a factor that sets this organization apart from most others. With all the resources to appoint the best in the world, it was a decision that was just as shocking as Pep’s announcement.
Sure, Villanova had been Guardiola’s assistant for the last five years, and knows both the strengths and the weaknesses of the team, just as well as Pep does. But what do we really know about this man who was now inherited a job that every coach dreams of?
In a statement made earlier this week, the club vowed that the success of the club will continue under Villanova. No pressure Tito. Then again, with a superstar line-up and foolproof formula, how hard can it really be?
The much anticipated farewell still airs a few times daily on Barca TV, and with the shows dedicated to discussing everything from Pep’s decision to bid farewell to the fans in Catalan, to whether the emotion he showed was real, or even why Tito was only seen once or twice, the rumor mill in Barcelona has been working overtime.
Despite all the rumors that have ranged from the viably true to the utterly absurd, Pep has remained focused on the final game that remains in his career with FCB: the Copa del Rey Final.
The players, who were just as stunned as the fans, spoke out following the announcement. Perhaps the most notable was the statement from Victor Valdez. The FCB goalkeeper was once obsessive to the point where he found no pleasure in the amazing opportunity he has been granted, more driven by fear of never letting a ball pass by him: “You know, between the ages of 8 and 18 there was so much pressure in my life that I couldn’t find peace. The mere thought of next Sunday’s game horrified me. Playing in goal was, to put it mildly, a special kind of suffering.”
In 2008, when Pep became club coach, he told Valdes that he didn’t just want good players, but players who actually enjoyed soccer. Guardiola sat Valdes down and told him that if he continued on in such a way, his career would pass him by and that he would never, not even for one day, enjoy this wonderful job. “Always being tense because success is the only thing you want. Watch some soccer on TV, try to understand the game”.
Valdes said that Guardiola transformed the way he experiences his profession, “He taught me to lower the intensity during a game and coldly analyze what was going on rather than just lurking there with grim resolution”.
Simultaneously, Mascherano, (who had just received an extension till 2014), praised Guardiola; “Pep has taught me to see football from a different perspective”.
Messi, who chose to skip the press conference, chose to use the social network Facebook instead, posting: “I want to thank Pep with all my heart for the huge amount he has contributed to my career, both professionally and personally”.
Carlos Puyol, was clearly emotional during Pep’s farewell at the Nou Camp, and all of the players ranging from Fabregas to Pinto, who will guard the net in the King’s Cup Final against Athletic Club Bilbao has vowed that they will win the match in honor of Pep, “The last match (under Guardiola) will be sad, we have to win to turn that sadness into joy so we can give him a proper send off”- Pinto.
FCB suffered another blow to a season that saw an endless amount of injuries; this time Puyol and Alves have been declared unfit for the the King’s Cup Final.
Puyol, who has suffered tumultuous ups and downs with his knee, is set to return for yet another surgery. Despite the fact that he will also miss the Euro Cup, the 34-year old Spaniard remained upbeat: “It’s like taking in your car for a check-up; this is something that has to be done”.
Alves, who suffered a broken collarbone in a training session last week, will miss the game, after an already turbulent season, and Abidal, who had just undergone a kidney transplant, rounds out the list.
Despite all of these injuries, FC Barcelona heads to the Vicente Calderon Stadium with plenty of experience to draw upon. Over the last four years, the squad has played in 14 finals, winning eleven of those.
This clash, the fifteenth, will see four players who have all appeared in thirteen of the previous matches: Xavi, Pedro, Messi and Keita. The injury list has opened the door for youngster Isaac Cuenca, who is likely to make his King’s Cup Final debut this weekend.
Star-striker, Villa is set to return just in time for the King’s Cup Final. This game may carry more value to him than any other player on the field. In his preliminary line-up for the European Championships Vicente del Bosque hadn’t chosen any of the Barcelona players or others involved in final matches.
The Spanish Coach seems to be playing coy and does not want to name players only to lose them to injury. For Villa, this is his only chance to show Vicente and everyone else that he is fit and ready do the national jersey proud yet again.
With the final just four days away, FC Barcelona and Guardiola have been preparing. Everyone anxious to ensure that Pep’s final game is a positive one for the history books. This “God-like” figure will certainly be remembered by Barca and non-Barca fans alike for decades to come.
Perhaps Argentine-striker Leo Messi will ensure a victory for Pep and the squad. Messi, who has scored nine goals at the Vicente Calderon stadium, will want to put on a display as FC Barcelona’s season comes to an end.
As for Villanova and his ability to run this well oiled machine…only time will tell.
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