Pep Guardiola talks of time out but the Chelsea link lingers

Manager to leave Barcelona at end of the season as he is 'running on empty' ... but decision leaves Messi in a mess

Pep Guardiola last night denied that he had already met with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich but stopped short of ruling out a switch to the Premier League next season.

"Sooner or later I will manage again, I don't know when," said the 41-year-old coach who admitted his decision to leave Barcelona had been made with the club last November. "Right now I am interested in other things, life will take me where it takes me. There are other things aside from football," he added.

There was no categoric statement of intent not to coach next season, but he denied a story that had appeared yesterday morning that he had met with the Chelsea owner on 29 February in Paris. "No, that would be a lack of respect to the club," he said.

Despite days and weeks of stories of the club trying to persuade him to stay, Guardiola admitted that the decision had been made last year.

He said: "Between the end of October and the start of December I told the president that this was the end of my time at the club but I could not make it public, or even tell the players. It would have been a mess if I had. The decision was taken a long time ago."

There were eight players present at the Ricard Maxenchs room in the bowels of the Nou Camp to see Guardiola publicly declare what he had known for five months but there was one important absentee. Lionel Messi had taken his coach's decision worse than any of his team-mates and later admitted: "I want to thank Pep from the bottom of my heart for all that he has given me.

"I prefer not to be there with him because of the strong emotions that I feel. I know the press will be looking for sad faces and that is something that I have decided not to show."

Taking the sting out of Guardiola's decision to leave, Barcelona have appointed his right-hand man Tito Vilanova to take over. "The players accepted the news with a lot of enthusiasm and that is a great sign. They are in good hands," Guardiola said.

"I am the coach with the third highest number of games in charge. That shows how difficult it is to coach this club. Four years is an eternity," he said. "Time takes its toll. I am empty and I need to refuel. It would have been bad for me and for the squad if I had continued. I need to put distance between myself and the club. I need to get myself away from it all."

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