Pep Guardiola has confirmed he will step down as manager of Barcelona, with his assistant Tito Vilanova taking over his position in the summer.
The former Barcelona midfielder took over the Catalan club in 2008, guiding them to Champions League glory on two occasions and claiming three successive La Liga titles.
Speculation has been rife over the 41-year-old’s future over the past week after Barcelona’s hopes of claiming a record fourth successive league title and becoming the first side to claim back-to-back Champions League victories went up in smoke in the space of three days.
Defeat against Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico all but handed the league title to Jose Mourinho’s men, who now enjoy a seven point gap at the top of the table, while Chelsea secured a place in the Champions League final at Barca’s expense with a dramatic 3-2 aggregate win on Tuesday despite the visitors going down to ten men in the first half.
Speaking in a press conference this afternoon, Guardiola admitted he took the decision to step down with a heavy heart.
"The reason for my leaving is simple - four years is very long," he said. It would have been a bad idea to continue. Perhaps we wouldn't have gone wrong, but I have the perception that we would.
“I know where I'm going from, I know it's a the best place, but it's my decision to go. I want to say thanks to my players who it has been a privilege to train them.
“Day by day, for so many years, the players made it all possible, which is a huge privilege,” he added.
He went on to reveal he will take a sabbatical away from the game, with speculation linking him with managerial positions at Chelsea and with England said to be unfounded.
In the aftermath of defeat to Chelsea, Guardiola confirmed that he intended to contemplate his future at the club.
“In the next days I will decide if I continue or not," he said. "We'll talk about everything, about the situation and the we'll take a decision because right now, it's evident that it's time to.''
Guardiola’s arrival as the successor to Frank Rijkaard in 2008 heralded the start of a period of unprecedented success at Barcelona, with the club winning 13 trophies during his time at the helm.
The high point of his managerial career at Barca came with two Champions League final victories against Manchester United in 2009 and 2011.
Prior to their two defeats in the past week Barcelona had enjoyed success in 13 of the 16 competitions they had entered under Guardiola, while most observers believe they are one of the greatest teams of all time.
However his four-year stint at the club has seemingly taken its toll, with the former Spanish international repeatedly hinting that he is ready to step down because of fatigue over the past 12 months.
Vilanova’s illness in recent months is also said to have played its part in his decision, although he returned to the Barca bench having undergone an operation to remove a tumour and will become the Catalan club's new full-time coach.
Details of a meeting with club president Sandro Rosell have emerged in the last 24 hours, in which Guardiola confirmed his plans to step down from the role at the end of the season, before being convinced to sleep on his decision.
Reports in the Spanish press confirmed Guardiola’s intention to step down before the official announcement, with Marca, Spain’s biggest selling sports daily revealing yesterday that ‘he is closer to leaving than staying’.