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Adios Pep | GMF tribute to Barcelona legend

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There wasn't a dry eye in the Barcelona dressing room yesterday evening, as the great and good of the Blaugrana came to terms with Pep Guardiola's departure.

Guardiola managed Barca for the final time on Friday, and took the opportunity to paper over the cracks of a relatively disappointing season by wrestling the Copa del Rey from the grasp of Real Madrid.

Athletic Bilbao were the opponents for Guardiola's last game at the Nou Camp helm and it was, perhaps, fitting that his managerial career with Barca will reach its conclusion in yet another final.

Under Guardiola's stewardship, Barcelona have set a new benchmark in the annals of the club's history and, with 14 trophies won during his management, the 41-year-old will leave the Catalan giants as their most successful ever manager.

Guardiola's decision to take a sabbatical may still be difficult to comprehend for the most hardened Barca supporters, but leaving the club with a legacy untarnished makes perfect sense for the former midfield maestro.

His transition from playing to coaching was almost immediate, taking charge of Barcelona B after ending his playing days in Mexico, and Guardiola deserves to be afforded a period of rest in order to readdress his life's ambitions.

Guardiola's affiliation with Barcelona stretches as far back as 1983 and, although he has revealed he could be 'seduced' back into management if an offer comes along, it would be traitorous to fathom him being in the opposition dugout any time soon.

His place in Barcelona legend was already assured long before he led the club to an unprecedented spell of success, having been the pivot of Johan Cruyff's 1990s Dream Team.

Cruyff identified Guardiola's potential to operate as a midfield axis in only his first week as Barca manager, requesting the teenager be moved from the wing and into the centre during a visit to the Mini Estadi.

It was not a position frequented in Spanish football at that time, but Guardiola adjusted immediately when requested to play as the fulcrum and, four years later, his ability to dictate proceedings in midfield helped Barca to their maiden European Cup.

There were halcyon days in the summer of 1992 for Guardiola, after European success was followed by international glory, as he led Spain to Olympic gold on home territory.

Guardiola won the Spanish title during each of his first four seasons in the Barcelona first team and, although Barca were defeated in the 1994 Champions League final, Pep played a key hand in the club's most successful era.

This was, of course, until Cruyff's record of 11 trophies was surpassed by his young protege, while the influence of the former was crucial on Guardiola's future success.

Guardiola was part of two more title winning sides following Cruyff's departure, while another European triumph - this time in the Cup Winners' Cup - game in 1997.

He left the club in 2001 after playing a hand in capturing 16 trophies, playing his final game in June 24 against Celta Vigo - his 479th for the club.

"It's been a long journey," he said. "I'm happy, proud, happy with the way people treated me and I have made many friends.

"I cannot ask for more. I have had many years in the elite. I did not come to make history but to make my own history."

By then, Guardiola's legacy was already being felt, with Xavi having progressed to the Barcelona first-team and be afforded the opportunity to feature alongside his hero.

Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas have also cited Guardiola as their role model as the climbed the club's ranks, showing just how deep the relationship between Barca and Pep runs.

After leaving the Nou Camp, Guardiola spent two spells with Brescia - either side of a season in Rome - before chasing a quick buck by joining Doha side Al-Ahli in the Qatar Stars League.

Guardiola called time on his playing days after a six month stint with Dorados de Sinaloa, and Barca were quick to offer him a return to the club after a six year absence.

Only 12 months later and Guardiola succeed Frank Rijkaard as the club's manager, and the former immediately instilled a more disciplined passing style and aggressive pressing approach.

The relics of Rijkaard's 2006 Champions League winners were quickly discarded, with Ronaldinho and Deco the most high-profile departures under the new manager.

Guardiola invested, too, and the return of Gerad Pique proved a masterstroke, while the acquisition of Dani Alves from Sevilla provided Barca with more thrust in place of Gianluca Zambrotta.

Naturally, Guardiola's impact was immediate as Blaugrana became the first Spanish side to claim the Treble, after triumphs in the league, cup and Champions League.

Barcelona's tika-taka style saw them emerge as perhaps the finest club side of all-time in the seasons that followed, as they continued to add more trophies at an alarming rate.

Yet, Guardiola ultimately became a victim of his own success, with Real Madrid's title victory and Barca's defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League enough to convince him now was the right time to move aside.

Few can begrudge Guardiola the chance to spend time away from the game given the rigours of the last four years, although the resolve of Barca fans will be tested should he be coaxed from his sabbatical by another club.

But he departs the Nou Camp with the finest record of any manager to have worked with Barcelona in their illustrious history, and his achievements may never be surpassed.

Although his influence will still be felt under the guise of Tito Vilanova, Pep Guardiola's Barcelona are a thing of the past, and they were a joy to behold.

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