Four glorious years on, Guardiola is gone but not forgotten

The man who made Messi walks away after a spectacular reign of success – leaving a squad of long faces in the Barcelona dressing room

Barcelona

Pep Guardiola described four years coaching Barcelona as an eternity yesterday. For Barcelona players and supporters, his departure means paradise lost. When he took over first-team responsibilities in May 2008 after just one year's experience as Barcelona's B team coach, the club had just finished 18 points behind Real Madrid in the league.

Yesterday the players he had moulded into one of the greatest teams ever were there to watch him confirm his departure – notably the senior players Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez, who under Guardiola's guidance had finally won the trophies their careers deserved, and Andres Iniesta, who like Xavi, had been viewed as too lightweight for many of the club's biggest games under previous coach Frank Rijkaard, but who blossomed under Guardiola.

Victor Valdes, who had gone from being an accident-prone keeper to one of the top three in the world was also present. Gerard Pique, who he brought back from Manchester United, and Pedro and Sergi Busquets who he promoted from the youth team he had taken from the third division to the second as champions in his only other season in football management.

For some his departure was harder to take than for others. Cesc Fabregas joined the club last season to fulfil a dream not just to play for the club he supported as a boy but also for his boyhood hero. His face was longer than most and for the absent Leo Messi the disappointment at losing his mentor was too much.

Messi became the world's greatest player during his tenure. Under the previous manager, Frank Rijkaard, his goals-per-games ratio was 0.39 – under Guardiola it shot to more than a goal a game. Messi would have improved naturally under any coach but Guardiola's decision to move him to a withdrawn centre-forward position was one of the coach's masterstrokes.

Many of the watching players had played in Guardiola's first game in charge – a disappointing away defeat to Numancia. The new Pep team as it was later named then drew their first home match against Racing Santander, giving rise to whispers that the club had erred in giving so much responsibility to an untried manager, when Jose Mourinho was also available. But the team then beat Sporting Gijon 6-1 away and never looked back, winning 13 trophies.

Guardiola won the Spanish Cup , the league and the Champions League in his first season, lifting the European Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup and the World Club Cup to complete a debut clean sweep. The league was won the following season and in his third campaign he did the domestic and Champions League double. His trophy count puts him three clear of Johan Cruyff as the club's most successful manager.

Replacing him will be a daunting task. Barcelona supporters have grown used to winning over the last four seasons. He won 178 of his 242 matches and his team scored 618 goals. In the style of Sir Alex Ferguson he also got shot of dressing-room heavyweights. Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both won league titles the season after they left but it did not matter because Barça, without them, carried on winning.

This season the incredible high standards have dropped slightly. There have been too many changes to his starting line-up for a consistent league campaign. Young players have come in and failed to reach the high standards of Busquets and Pedro before them. Key performers such as the injured David Villa and Eric Abidal, who is recovering from a liver transplant, have been missed, as have those whose form has dropped – most notably Pique.

But he will be forgiven for leaving on a relative low. The ball-boy who raced on to the pitch in the 1986 European Cup final as an excited 15-year-old fan and who then played in the team that won the club's first ever European Cup under Cruyff at Wembley in 1992 can still do no wrong in the eyes of most supporters. And the bitter pill of his departure has also been sweetened by the appointment of his number two to take over. A move straight out of the 1980s Liverpool boot room.

His last match in charge will be the Spanish Cup final against Athletic Bilbao on 25 May – four years and 17 days after taking over. The players yesterday filled the Nou Camp press room as he confirmed he was leaving. They will have the chance to give him one final goodbye present in his last game in charge. Yesterday after his send-off, tourists mulled around the press room asking if Guardiola was still present. "No he has gone," they were told by the club's security stewards. Finally, after weeks of speculation, that was true.

Walking away: Three more who made early exits

Kevin Keegan

Stunned fans when he resigned from Newcastle in January 1997, months after guiding the club to second place in the Premier League. He returned to manage Fulham eight months later, taking the England job in 1999. He also walked out on Manchester City in 2005, before returning for a further spell at Newcastle three years later.

Kenny Dalglish

Announced surprise decision to step down as Liverpool manager in February 1991 two days after a 4-4 draw at Everton and with the club top of the First Division. Took over at Blackburn later that year, leading them to the Premier League title in 1995, and made sentimental return to Anfield 15 months ago.

Martin O'Neill

Popular Northern Irishman stepped down from successful spell at Celtic in 2005 to care for his sick wife. After a year out he returned to take over at Aston Villa, leading them to a League Cup final before making himself unpopular with fans by stepping down just five days before the 2010-11 campaign start.

Jim Pople

Tito who? Pep's assistant lands dream job

Nicknamed 'Tito', midfielder Francesc Vilanova enjoyed little success as a player before becoming ass-istant to Pep Guard-iola at Barcelona B. The pair's suc-cess saw them promoted to the full side in 2008, since when the club have won 13 trophies. Vilanova is best known for being poked in the eye by Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho during a game last year.

Born 17 September 1969, Girona

Playing career

1988-90 Barcelona B

1990-92 Figueres

1992-95 Celta Vigo

1995-96 Badajoz

1996-97 Real Mallorca

1997-98 Lleida

1998-2000 Elche

2000-02 Gramenet

Coaching career

2007-08 Barcelona B (assistant)

2008-12 Barcelona (assistant)

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