Josep Guardiola's decision to quit as coach of Barcelona after four record-breaking years is tantamount to a prime minister resigning, according to one Spanish football expert. Begona Perez told CNN World Sport that Guardiola's imminent departure had sent shock waves around Spain and plunged Barca's fans into a period of mourning as they contemplate life after the coach who delivered 13 trophies.
The 41-year-old's reign at the Catalan club has been littered with success and underpinned by a philosophy that has produced some of the most attractive football seen in recent times. Guardiola cited tiredness as the major factor in his decision, describing his four years on Barca's bench as an eternity. His assistant, Tito Vilanova, will take the reins next season, but for now, it is all about Guardiola.
His decision to quit prompted his current players to pay the warmest of tributes. Lionel Messi took to his official page on social networking site Facebook to laud Guardiola. "I want to thank Pep with all my heart for everything he has given me in my professional career and personally," the 24-year-old wrote.
"Because of the emotions I feel I preferred not to be present at Pep's press conference and to stay away from the press because I know they will look for the pain on the players' faces. It is something I decided not to show." Perez told CNN Guardiola's announcement was a huge occasion in Spanish sporting terms.
"It's almost like a prime minister leaving his post," she told CNN. "He's almost God-like in Barcelona. What he has achieved has been amazing.
"The most successful thing at Barcelona is the philosophy at the club. He didn't invent this style of football but he made it perfect. We've seen in the last four years what they achieved and the style has been amazing." Perez explained that four grueling seasons at one of the world's most high profile clubs had finally taken its toll on Guardiola, who had always maintained it was a job that no-one could do indefinitely.
He has also had to contend with serious illnesses to defender Eric Abidal, who recently underwent a liver transplant, and health difficulties for his successor, Villanova, who had a tumor. "It has been a very difficult season," she added. "There are personal reasons behind this, they lost to Real Madrid and Chelsea in the last week, but it's been difficult for personal reasons.
"Especially with the illness to Abdial and his number two Villanova. Basically he needs a break. We expect him to take a sabbatical year because it has been emotionally very hard this season. "He's a person with other interests -- he is football obsessed but he is the kind of person who likes to read a book, go the cinema and obviously his family. He has made many sacrifices and he wants to make the most of it now."
As for Guardiola's replacement, Perez said promoting Vilanova from assistant was the logical choice for a club that prides itself on a distinct approach to the game "We don't know what is going to happen to this team in sports terms and whether they will be able to win trophies with Tito Vilanova," she added. "Guardiola has been the most successful manager in Barca history and that is something that is going to be difficult to achieve again.
"I think the fans are very sad, they feel it's an end of an era but they are happy with Vilanova talking over -- it's a natural decision.
"It's someone who knows the club inside out, he was the manager of the likes of Fabregas, Pique and Messi in the youth team so it's a continuity of the club's philosophy."