Barça hope to give Guardiola an emotional send-off

 

Pep Guardiola's glorious reign as Barcelona manager will end tonight with the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid. Victory would mean Guardiola ending his four-year tenure at the Nou Camp with his 14th trophy – the perfect end to the best spell at a European club side for a generation. This date has been marked since, one month ago, the former Barça midfielder announced he would step down.

When Guardiola inherited Frank Rijkaard's tired side in 2008, he introduced a new philosophy. In keeping with the Dutch traditions of the club, an emphasis on possession was matched with ferocious hard work off the ball. With the integration of youngsters from the club's academy, he created an approach that was unique, successful, endlessly watchable and quintessentially Barcelona. "It's a wonderful legacy he is leaving behind," said sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta.

The first season ended with the first treble in Spanish football history. Barcelona won their first Spanish title in three years, and the Copa del Rey. In the Champions League final they beat Manchester United 2-0. The following year they added the Club World Cup and retained the Spanish title. Guardiola's third year was probably his best: beating Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid to the league, with another Champions League final win over United.

If there is a disappointment, it is that Guardiola's fourth and final year will not be more decorated. Barcelona regained the Club World Cup, but have struggled to balance a team containing new signings Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez. No Spanish title, no Champions League, and so Guardiola may have to settle for merely medal number 14 when he steps down.

Unsurprisingly, Barcelona are very keen that he should be able to do so. "I believe the players' desire to send him off with the Copa del Rey trophy is a motivation," said Zubizarreta. "This team is built on emotion and I believe that's a good thing as football shouldn't always be cold. It can be experienced in the most emotional manner."

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