Pep Guardiola has apparently informed FC Barcelona of his intention to leave the club in the summer, as reported by Sky Sports. This raises the obvious question: Who could replace the man who has won 15 trophies in four years?
Guardiola is a Barca legend, first as a player, but now even more so as a manager. He he has crafted a team that is the envy of the rest of the football world. His success forced the return of the "Galacticos Policy" at Real Madrid and has most top-flight managers attempting to duplicate his formations and playing style.
Any new manager would have to demonstrate a strict adherence to the footballing principles Barcelona are so fond of, as well as the club's proud tradition of developing their own talented youngsters. With this in mind, it is important to note that very few could easily replace Guardiola. Here are the top four candidates based on this criteria:
Marco Bielsa, Athletic Bilbao
In many ways Marco Bielsa is the ideal choice to replace Guardiola. The gruff Argentine has developed a youthful and exciting Bilbao team that is on the cusp of UEFA Europa League and Copa Del Rey glory.
Bielsa has crafted his team on many of the same principles that have enabled Barcelona to enjoy so much recent success. He favours a technically sound and expansive style of play, based on accurate passing and intelligent movement.
Thanks to the selection policies at Bilbao, Bielsa is used to developing young players and is not afraid to quickly throw them into the mix. Barcelona would lose none of their distinctive style and belief in the development of youth with Bielsa in charge.
Luis Enrique, AS Roma
Luis Enrique is the first of two former Barca stars to make this list. Although he has not found great success in Italy, Enrique is a believer in the same way to build a team that Guardiola has favoured.
He wishes to craft a side filled with precocious young talents with the skill and daring to play open and attractive football. Enrique has coached the B team at Barca and worked with the likes of Cristian Tello, Isaac Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara.
His appointment would ensure that Barcelona's time and investment in these players would not be wasted. Rejoining his former club could also prove to be the spark Enrique's managerial career needs.
Ronald Koeman, Feyenoord
Easily the most controversial name on this list, Ronald Koeman has deep ties with Barcelona, having scored the goal that won the club's first ever European Cup in 1992. Koeman has the experience of working with younger players and the tactical acumen that could appeal to the Barca hierarchy.
He has helped develop some fine young players in his native Holland, including the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Ibrahim Affellay. Koeman won two titles with Ajax in the early part of the last decade, but has experienced modest managerial success since.
However, Barcelona once took a similar chance on fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, who had previously been relegated with Sparta Rotterdam. That risk certainly paid off handsomely.
Mircea Lucescu, Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar Donetsk supremo Mircea Lucescu is an interesting option for Barcelona to consider. The 66-year-old is a managerial veteran who has enjoyed great success in Turkey, Romania and Ukraine.
Lucescu has turned Donetsk into well-balanced team, capable of producing outstanding attacking football. He has placed a premium on luring talented Brazilian players Eduardo Da Silva, Willian and Douglas Costa to Donetsk and letting their flair be the focus of the team.
Lucescu suffered bad injuries in a serious car crash back in January. However, he has since returned to the touchline and could relish the chance to end a fine career by testing himself at one of the world's biggest clubs.
While none of the names on this list may be considered truly marquee, it should be noted that neither Guardiola nor Rijkaard before him were considered big names. Both enjoyed tremendous success at Barca and established the formula for team building that led to the creation of today's star-studded lineup.
The names on this list all fit the profile of managers who would retain this successful template. Each would stick to the values that not only form Barcelona's club philosophy, but also suit the way the current team plays.