Football

Nobody could blame Guardiola for walking away

Pep had previously appeared immune to criticism. (©GettyImages)
Pep had previously appeared immune to criticism. (©GettyImages).

It is testament to the wonders that Pep Guardiola has worked that, in the space of only six days, his position as Barcelona manager can transform from relatively unquestioned to in apparent doubt.

Guardiola has set such unbelievably high standards during almost four years as Barca's head coach, that consecutive defeats followed by a draw can be seen as somewhat of a catastrophe.

These were, of course, no ordinary fixtures, but each in its own way happened to be Barcelona's most important of the season, and they failed the test in all three.

Firstly, they succumbed to defeat at Stamford Bridge despite being supremely dominant, which was followed by the seemingly unthinkable - conceding their Liga title to Real Madrid on home territory.

The most significant blow, however, was struck by Chelsea in Catalonia, as a magnificent rearguard from the battered Blues saw them progress to the final of the Champions League, at the expense of the holders.

However, being relieved of his duties as Barca boss would not be the punishment to fit the crime of his worst week at the helm, regardless of the significance of the games in which they were seen wanting.

But any decision on Guardiola's future with the club could be taken out of the hands of the Barca hierarchy, should he walk away from his position, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season.

The 41-year-old has yet to commit to a new deal, and has gave the clearest indication yet that he may relinquish his role at the end of the campaign, following the dramatic 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

"In the next few days we will decide if I stay or not," Guardiola told reporters after the game.

"I will speak with my assistant [Tito Vilanova] and president Sandro Rosell and then we will decide what is best for the club.

"We will talk about everything, about the club's situation, and we will make a decision because evidently now is the time."

Few would begrudge Guardiola the right to leave the club on his own terms and, although he remains by some distance the best candidate for the job, it would come as no great surprise if he were to remove himself from the limelight.

Such was his standing at the club prior to taking charge of the first-team and such have his achievements been, Guardiola has seldom had to face criticism or see his methods questioned.

Yet that is now the reality for the former Barca midfielder, who was attacked somewhat by the local and national press during his briefing prior to the game against Chelsea on Tuesday, while his press conference after the game resembled a wake.

Although, perhaps, lacking in enthusiasm and personality during his meetings with the press, Guardiola has always done his best to maintain his dignity yet, when faced with the task of explaining his side's Champions League exit, was reduced to a rambling mess.

He was at somewhat of a loss to provide answers as to his side's recent failings and, after a haul of 13 trophies during his time as manager, could end this season as victim of his own success.

There are personal reasons to consider as well, of course, with the informed opinion that Guardiola would leave the club more in the hope of spending time with his young family, rather than for purely football reasons.

This season has also proven to be a particularly difficult one for Guardiola off the field as well as on it, with his right-hand man Tito Vilanova undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumour late last year, and Eric Abidal having a liver transplant.

Guardiola is particularly close to his players, and the illness to Abidal would has been hard for him to cope with, but it was the problems faced by good friend Vilanova that had an even greater affect on the Barca boss.

But on-field matters do, of course, remain a concern for Guardiola, and he has seen the footballing Gods under his command become humanised in a mere matter of days.

He and Barca can, though, still end the season with relative success, when they meet Athletic Bilbao a the Santiago Bernabeu in the final of the Copa del Rey next month.

May 25 will be his 244th game in charge of Barca and his 62nd in yet another long season. And who could blame Guardiola if he decides to make it his last?

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