The inspiration for a team
widely considered one of the best to grace the game, a thorn in
the side of bitter rivals Real Madrid and a symbol of Catalan
nationalism, Pep Guardiola has been all these things and more as
a player and coach for Barcelona.
The spectacularly successful 41-year-old, who announced on
Friday he was quitting at the end of the season, led Barca to a
club-record 13 trophies in his four seasons in charge including
two Champions League crowns and three straight La Liga titles.
He took over from Dutchman Frank Rijkaard in 2008 with the
team in disarray after a second-straight trophyless campaign,
ditching high-profile players including an underperforming
Ronaldinho and making some astute signings that helped set Barca
on their way to an unprecedented haul of silverware.
Imbued from an early age with Barca's unique brand of
football based on relentless possession and rapid passing, he
has taken it to new heights and won plaudits from such
heavyweights of the game as Manchester United manager Sir Alex
Ferguson and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger.
However, his attritional battle with combative Real Madrid
coach Jose Mourinho, who was an assistant coach at Barca when
Guardiola was a player, appeared to take away some of the joy he
felt for his work and may have contributed to his decision to
quit and take a rest.
His sudden departure after months of speculation is a fresh
blow for a club still reeling from Tuesday's Champions League
last-four elimination at the hands of Chelsea. They are also
poised to lose their La Liga title to Real.
However, the board's decision to promote his long-term
assistant and close friend Tito Vilanova to replace him suggests
his legacy will be in safe hands.
"The only thing that I can be accused of is that I love my
work," an emotional Guardiola told legislators in the Catalan
parliament after being presented with a gold medal, the
institution's highest honour, in September last year.
"What has educated me is the microsystem that is a football
team," he added. "I am who I am for having played sport."
Softly-spoken, unfailingly magnanimous in victory and
defeat, keen on poetry and philosophy and a snappy dresser,
Guardiola has earned the admiration and respect of an
overwhelming majority in the often cut-throat world of football
in Spain and beyond.
Born in the Catalan town of Santpedor on January 18, 1971,
Josep Guardiola i Sala joined Barca's famed 'La Masia' youth
academy in his early teens before making his first-team debut
under Dutch coach Johan Cruyff in 1990.
With superb ball-winning and playing ability, he ran the
midfield throughout the next decade, helping Barca to their
first European Cup triumph in 1992 as well as six La Liga
titles, two King's Cups and a European Cup Winners' Cup.
After spells at clubs in Italy, Qatar and Mexico, he retired
in late 2006.
His stint with Brescia in Serie A was disrupted when he
tested positive for nandrolone after a league match and was
banned for four months. He protested his innocence and
eventually cleared his name through the courts in 2009.
Appointed coach of Barca B - the club's reserve team - in
2007, he steered them to the top of their group and promotion
from Spain's regionally-based Tercera Division (fourth tier)
before former president Joan Laporta handed him his first
top-flight post in June 2008.
He values personal sacrifice and team ethic above all else
and is a meticulous and detail-obsessed worker, preparing games
with videos of rival teams.
Known for his motivational skills, he has managed to inspire
Argentina forward Lionel Messi to three straight World Player of
the Year awards, as well as bringing on such exciting talent as
Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara and Pedro.
"As well as the titles won, what I will always cherish is
something that is not a championship, the trophy of pride," club
president Sandro Rosell said at Guardiola's farewell news
conference on Friday.
"Thanks to him we won it. Of course there won't be a cup
standing in the museum but it will always be there in the spirit
of the Nou Camp."
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