Saturday 18 November 2017

Pep Guardiola keen to go on a high

Pep Guardiola's glorious reign as Barcelona manager will end tonight with the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid.

Victory would mean Guardiola ending his four-year tenure at the Nou Camp with his 14th trophy. This date has been marked since, one month ago, the former Barca midfielder announced he would step down.

When Guardiola inherited Frank Rijkaard's tired side in 2008, he introduced a new philosophy. In keeping with the Dutch traditions of the club, an emphasis on possession was matched with ferocious hard work off the ball. "It's a wonderful legacy he is leaving behind," said sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta.

The first season ended with the first treble in Spanish football history. Barcelona won their first Spanish title in three years, and the Copa del Rey. In the Champions League final they beat Manchester United 2-0. The following year they added the Club World Cup and retained the Spanish title. Guardiola's third year was probably his best: beating Real Madrid to the league, with another Champions League final win over United.

If there is a disappointment, it is that Guardiola's final year will not be more decorated. Barcelona regained the Club World Cup, but failed to lift the title or the Champions League.

"I believe the players' desire to send him off with the Copa del Rey trophy is a motivation," said Zubizarreta. "This team is built on emotion, I believe that's a good thing. Football shouldn't always be cold. It can be experienced in the most emotional manner."

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao

Live, Sky Sports 1, 9.0

Irish Independent

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