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Pep Guardiola: The Man Who Had It All at Barcelona Hands Vilanova His Dynasty

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Pep Guardiola: The Man Who Had It All at Barcelona Hands Vilanova His Dynasty
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All the talk wasn't just talk. After four years spent masterminding the majestic realization of his meticulous planning, Pep Guardiola will pass control of his revered Barcelona team to his assistant, Tito Vilanova, at the end of the season.

"I would like you to understand that this is not an easy decision for me, but I would like to explain my reasons for this decision," Guardiola told gathered media this morning. "I have always wanted short-term contracts. Four years is an eternity as Barca coach."

Those who look for reasoning in his team's Champions League semifinal loss to Chelsea, or in Real Madrid's recent Clasico win and their lead over Barca atop La Liga, are looking in the wrong place.

While Champions League disappointment may have hurried his announcement, this was no knee-jerk reaction (no pun intended John Terry) from Guardiola. He has been contemplating his future for some time.

He continued:

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In the month of October I announced to the president and to the sporting director that I thought my spell was coming to an end. The main reason I have taken this decision is because four years is many years.

I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries. The demands have been great and I have not been able to rest much. I have to recover and the only way I can do that is by distancing myself. Otherwise, we would have ended up damaging each other.

I know that I'm leaving the best place to work in. I am very satisfied with the result we have achieved. I have had the great privilege of coaching fantastic players. I want to thank them.

Guardiola will leave a considerable legacy. Since elevating from coach of Barcelona's B team to replace first-team coach Frank Rijkaard in 2008 he's won three Spanish league titles, two Champions League titles and a Spanish Cup. His total trophy count is at 13.

But the 41-year-old's achievements at Camp Nou transcend trophies.

It's not hyperbole to say his Barcelona will go down in history as one of the game's great teams—some would argue the greatest. They've not only dominated, but done so with a grace and beauty in their play that has left even the most cynical in awe.

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"The best team we have ever played," was how Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson described Barca after they passed his team off the pitch in the the 2011 Champions League final.

Here's how veteran coach Hector Cuper summed them up in 2011, during his time at Racing Santander (as per ESPNsoccernet):

I have a very clear opinion about Barcelona. Since I've been in the world of football, I've never seen anything like them. They are the tops. They're the best team in the world, far ahead of the rest.

They have everything, they've broken the mould. To add something new, I'd say they are a team without equal. At times the forwards are in midfield and vice-versa, and the defenders become the most dangerous forwards.

Can anybody tell me whether [Sergio] Busquets is a defender or midfield player, whether [Lionel] Messi is a winger, striker, midfield player, or plays just behind the strikers, not to mention [Javier] Mascherano. I've always said that perfection doesn't exist, but Barca are the closest I've ever seen.

It's a perspective many share. And while Guardiola may not have invented the tiki-taka approach, in which his 10 outfield players move fluidly about the pitch and interchange passes with an almost hypnotic intensity, his Barcelona teams have arguably come to define it.

Pass, pass, pass, pass... another goal. It's a winning formula that countless coaches will spend the next decade trying to replicate.

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It's not just Barcelona as a team who have flourished either. Guardiola's bespoke solution has consistently brought the best out of individuals too—most notably of course Lionel Messi, the best player on the planet and a man who owes Guardiola a great debt.

Just consider the accolades handed to Guardiola's great triumvirate of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Messi during his reign. Messi has won three straight Ballon d'Ors; Xavi three times finished third; Iniesta had one runner-up finish and twice finished fourth.

Xavi was desperate for Guardiola to stay. "It is imperative that he continues here," he told Gol TV earlier this week. "In my opinion, he's a key figure, and perhaps even the most important person at the club."

There's no "perhaps" about it.

Here's what Barcelona president Sandra Rossell had to say about Guardiola's decision to stand down this morning:

Thank you, Pep, for all the happiness you have brought us and for bringing a model of football that can never be questioned.

The thanks from everybody at Barcelona will be eternal for the best manager in the history of the club.

Quite an accolade when you consider the coaches he followed into the role—the likes of Johan Cruyff, the late Sir Bobby Robson and Rijkaard.

So why on earth would Guardiola choose to leave at the peak of his powers?

Put simply, he's burned out. Four years of pouring his soul into this Barcelona team have taken their toll and Guardiola is not prepared to give Barca anything but his full attention. If this were a Hollywood trailer the voice over would talk about him needing to leave it all behind to find it again.

And so to his successor, Vilanova—a man who today became both the luckiest or unluckiest coach on the planet.

"I think the club has taken the best decision possible," Guardiola said of his appointment. "He is more than capable. The players know him. He will make few changes. He will give the club and these players something that I thought I could no longer give."

Vilanova knows Guardiola's ways intimately. The 42-year-old was his assistant with the Barcelona B team and jumped into the big time alongside Guardiola when he replaced Rijkaard in 2008.

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It's not the big-name appointment many of us expected—a coach like Athletic Bilbao's Marco Bielsa, France national team manager Laurent Blanc or Roma's Luis Enrique—but it's completely in keeping with the model that brought Guardiola success in the first place.

Barcelona have become something truly special in the last four years, so who better to take on Guardiola's dynasty than a man who's been party to every facet of their development during his time at Camp Nou?

Just as Guardiola was elevated from Barca's B team, so Vilanova emerges from his shadow to take his legacy forward. The Barcelona family had a natural heir all along it seems, but the question now is can he continue the good work of the man he worked under?

It won't be easy, so it's just as well he inheriting a squad of world-class players who know how to win things.

As for Guardiola, he leaves Barca with a reputation as one of the best coaches in football and can pretty much pick his club when he decides to return to work. For the sake of beautiful football, let's hope it's sooner rather than later.

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