Thursday 22 March 2018

Seduction of Guardiola to require patience and time

The departing boss will return but maybe not to the Nou Camp, writes Sid Lowe

Sid Lowe

Pep Guardiola did not exactly ride off into the sunset but as footballing departures go this might just have been the next best thing.

It was well after 1.0am when he emerged from the dark passageway under the main stand at the Vicente Calderon, climbed the stairs and emerged from the tunnel into the light. There was silence in the stadium, fans long gone. On to the pitch he went, accompanied as ever by Manuel Estiarte, Barcelona's director of external relations, the man who has travelled the journey with him and is leaving with him too.

Estiarte carried the Copa del Rey in his hand, the 14th trophy of Guardiola's time as Barcelona coach. Guardiola strolled across the pitch, through the flickering tickertape that covered the turf, debris from a party just finished, and headed towards the north corner of the stadium where a tunnel leads to the shadow of the car park and from there to Barcelona's team bus. Along the way people stopped to shake his hand, a photograph or two, an embrace. The further away he got, the smaller.

And then he reached the corner, ducked under the archway into the darkness, and out of sight. It was a scene that only lacked The End scrawled across it. Or maybe: To Be Continued.

Guardiola looked back but the desire to look forward is always there, the inevitable question: what next? Will there be a sequel to his glorious reign as Barcelona coach? No matter how often Guardiola insists that he is going to take a break from the game, there is no break from the questioning. The interest in his next step is huge. He is a wanted man, so much so that there has been an apparent desire to see opportunities even when there are none. At least not yet.

On the eve of Friday night's final, his last game for Barcelona, reports suggested that Guardiola was ready to be seduced back into management -- and right now. In fact, it was a lost-in-translation moment. Guardiola had been speaking in English. He was going to take a break, he said. "Months" sounded like "month". Suddenly, it seemed that he would be ready to take on another job virtually straight away. He could be in charge next season, they said. He won't be. Guardiola's intention is to take a sabbatical for a year. Potential employers will have to wait. Chelsea's Roman Abramovich is among them and he is prepared to.

There has been encouragement for potential suitors. If Guardiola did not intend to say "month" in the singular, he did alert clubs that it will certainly be worth trying to win him over; in his words, it is worth trying to "seduce" him. He is listening.

The key word was not so much "month", or even "months", but "will": "I will train again," Guardiola said: "Offers will be pleasantly received. But for the next month[s] I have to charge my batteries, to charge my mind. I want to rest and I will wait. And I will be ready and if one club wants me and they seduce me, I will train again."

With each passing press conference, the idea of doing another job in another place sounds less like some remote possibility and more like a probability.

Just not yet. After this final game, he talked of his time at Barcelona, about legacy and identity, about a project that he insists can continue without him. But of course the question of whether, when and where he would continue without them again hovered. That he spoke in four languages underlined just how wide his appeal could be.

A Brazilian journalist was insistent that he take over the national team. "Where would I live?" Guardiola asked. "Rio." A grin, a knowing look. "Hmm, I'll think about it, then."

First, though, he will rest. These four years have taken their toll -- Guardiola noted, for example, that, totted up, he has spent 11 whole days in front of the media alone -- and he needs a break. From football, not just from Barcelona.

"I am tired," he said, "and I would be tired on another bench, not just here. I will stop for a bit. I will rest and, in the future, a new challenge. I do not know when but I will try."


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