Pep Guardiola brings down the curtain at Barcelona
Catalan giants fail in last-minute bid to keep hold of manager as Chelsea wait to pounce
Pep Guardiola is expected to walk away from FC Barcelona today, four years and 13 trophies after taking over.
Desperate not to lose their most successful coach ever, the club were hoping for a last-minute change of heart but after a three-hour meeting on Wednesday morning with the Barcelona president Sandro Rosell that U-turn looks unlikely.
Roman Abramovich, who has made no secret of his desire to bring Guardiola to Stamford Bridge, must now wait to see if he walks away from football for a year or straight into the club that has just knocked him out of the Champions League.
Guardiola will inform his players of his long-awaited decision and then make it public in a joint press conference with Rosell.
The two men met with director of football Andoni Zubizarreta, club vice- president Josep Maria Bartomeu and Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova just hours after the exit to Chelsea, and Rosell offered his coach full control over decision-making and a blank chequebook. But having been so successful in his first four years Guardiola already had the final say over almost all club matters, and loosening any financial restraints over next summer's signings also seems to have been irrelevant.
Chelsea, the club that ended Guardiola's chance of becoming the first coach to retain the Champions League, have already contacted his agent, Josep Maria Orobitg. But having taken the difficult decision to walk away, Guardiola is now expected to take a further three weeks to consider his future.
He could still follow the lead of Barcelona's last outgoing coach, Frank Rijkaard, who took a year away from the game after leaving in 2008. What is not under consideration is taking a job with the English FA.
Guardiola told Zubizarreta in November that he did not feel he had the physical and mental strength for another season. Those doubts were expressed at the time his assistant had emergency surgery to remove a tumour in his throat, and Barcelona supporters had believed with Vilanova back at work Guardiola would change his mind and continue.
The club captain, Xavi Hernandez, speaking in the run-up to last Saturday's clasico with Real Madrid said: "We don't talk about it in the dressing room. We want him to continue, but it is up to him." Guardiola's ability to lift his players will have been one of the key issues in his decision.
He has been strained by the intensity of his success at the club: in two of his four seasons Barça played every game possible and in the other two only fell at the semi-final stage of the Champions League. He complained at the start of the season that the summer tour had replaced a proper pre-season.
Guardiola has also been drained by 10 high-tension encounters with Jose Mourinho, his opposite number at Real Madrid. "I don't have good memories of the Madrid-Barça games, neither the victories nor the defeats – there were always other things that took away from the football. Good luck to the referee," he said before the last encounter, which Mourinho won – only the Real coach's second victory over Guardiola.
The current Athletic Bilbao coach, Marcelo Bielsa, and the former Barcelona player Ernesto Valverde, who has just quit Olympiakos after winning his third Greek Super League title, are seen as early options to replace Guardiola. Valverde has previously worked with Zubizarreta at Bilbao.
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