Barcelona boss signs a new contract ending countless rumours on his departure having delivered an unprecedented six trophies for the club.
Drama about Guardiola's future is over
The speculation was becoming ridiculous and potentially destabilising. Pep Guardiola was going to join Manchester United or even City. The Barca coach was going to quit at the end of the season. He was going to wait and see who was elected Barca president in the summer and go from there.
Guardiola was going to decide as and when he was ready, the privilege of a man who had delivered an unprecedented six trophies for Barcelona in 2009. His agent Jose Maria Orobit did not help matters. He fuelled the speculation by claiming that six clubs had been in contact about acquiring his client's services when his contract expires in May. With mounting pressure, Pep was coerced into moving much sooner after the outgoing president Joan Laporta told him that the speculation was undermining the club. The favourite to replace Laporta is his former vice-president, Sandro Rossell. The pair dramatically fell out, but Guardiola continuing is the one issue on which all presidential candidates agree.
Whoever wins the election will have Guardiola as coach for their first year in office after he reluctantly agreed to sign a one year extension to his contract ahead of schedule. A packed press conference at Camp Nou saw him arrive from the training ground with his closest friends and tell the assembled media: "I know that sooner or later I will cease to be coach of Barça and I have to enjoy the time I'm here to the maximum. A coach of Barça can't be here for life - just because. I think that you have sign for short periods in which the coach has to earn things, with the players, with the fans..."
The news was a surprise even to his parents, who heard it on the radio at home in Santepdor, the Catalan town of 7,000 where Guardiola grew up. "I wanted to see if that was happening," their son continued, "if I had the support of the players, the board. Nowhere am I going to be as comfortable as I am here." Guardiola admitted that he wanted to wait until the end of the season, but that he had changed his mind after his side were eliminated from the Spanish cup last week by Sevilla.
"It makes the weeks seem longer," he explained. "And the speculation was becoming uncomfortable for a lot of people. We had to kill off the matter." Guardiola also made it clear that neither he nor the players would be affected by the upcoming elections for the club presidency, the campaigning for which is now starting. Nor is he worried about his own position when the new president takes over. "We'll talk about a new contract when it's calm," he said. "It will be good for the new president to get to know me and for me to know him to see what we both think."
The news was greeted with delight by Barca fans and respect by his peers. "What Guardiola has done is spectacular: winning six titles in his first year," said Real Madrid's Manuel Pellegrini. "He deserves it," added Manuel Pochettino, coach of neighbours Espanyol. "I love him," glowed Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores. "He loves his job and he's so passionate. He is the kind of manager I would always go for - a reference for us all."
The position of Barça's technical secretary Txiki Begiristain is unclear. Along with the head coach, he is responsible for signing new players. Guardiola wants him to stay, but that may be a decision for the new club president - one of many he will have to make. And one of many which will be judged closely by the man with the real power, Guardiola. Two hours after leaving his players to make the announcement he rejoined them at the training ground to prepare for Barca's game at struggling Valladolid tonight, while title rivals Real Madrid are at home to Malaga tomorrow.
On the training ground is where he's happiest. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Real Valladolid v Barcelona, 11pm Al Jazeera + 2