Pep Guardiola sat in front of his own players and a packed room of journalists.
“Being Barcelona coach for four years is an eternity and I’m drained and I need to recharge,” he said in April 2012. “The demand has been very high and a manager must be strong. It wouldn’t have been a good thing, not for me, not for the players, if I continued.”
The players, almost the entire first-team squad, watched intently from the front two rows. Most admired and adored their boss. They’d won everything they can win in club football and then some. Most. Some had caused him problems and knew they'd led to him calling it a day. They said nothing as they sat like innocent little schoolboys.
Guardiola gave more explanations, thanks and two apologies, saying: “I’m truly sorry for losing my energy. If I don’t have that life that I had when I started ... I can’t lie,” and “I’m sorry for the confusion in recent weeks."
What Barcelona's greatest ever manager didn't mention publicly was that his relationship with his players had changed. It was tiring him out at the time, but this week he gave an interview in which he said: “If you can’t motivate your players anymore, as a coach, you know the time has come to leave.”
He also spoke about working with so many star players.
“With a lot of stars in the line-up, like we have now at Bayern Munich or at my previous team, Barcelona, you can encounter situations in which having so many can be destructive. Everyone wants to play, but you can only put out 11 players on the pitch at any one time. The players I leave on the bench are likely to be the ones who won’t be happy with my decision. And there’s the pressure from the press and the fans of having to pick certain players. Every time I left Messi on the bench, for example, there was a fuss.”
Guardiola did it well for over three years.
"We were incredibly successful," he explained. "14 trophies in just four years; it was the best period in the club’s history. But that can also be a burden. I progressively encountered difficulties in motivating myself and the team. I had won everything with Barca, both as a player and as a coach. And I realized that it was getting more and more difficult for the team.”
So Guardiola announced that he was leaving to take a sabbatical.
“Leading a team requires tonnes of energy," he explained. "In other words, there are times when you need to recharge your batteries. That’s what I did when I took a sabbatical in New York. That was very important for me, for my family and also for my previous team.”
Current Barca boss Tata Martino will have read the words and been able to relate. He's only been the job nine months and already there's informed talk that he won't be in the job next season. At least one Barca player said as far back at December that the Argentinian will not be in charge then. And that was before the club blew up with the Neymar transfer scandal which led to the resignation of club president Sandro Rosell.
Martino simply feels that he's not enjoying his job, that he doesn’t feel like his work is appreciated. Because it isn't. The Catalan media have been very harsh on the former Newell's Old Boys boss, in part because they expect perfection and in part because he's not Guardiola, nor Catalan.
Despite being fan-owned, Barca is an inherently political institution, with constant shifting plates of power and significant media influence. It can all be extremely tiring for a manager, with the bar of expectation set so high that success is almost impossible to achieve. Bobby Robson recalled fans booing after his side had won one game 6-0 because they hadn't played in the right way, that is with flawless attacking, passing, football.
This is a club where a crisis comes when the team fails to win a match. When they slip to third in the table, as has happened in the last month with two defeats from their last three away games, Catalonia goes crazy with more conspiracy theories than the Moon landings.
The constant grind of the job and impossible to please public wears every coach out; it's just a question of how long it takes. Frank Rijkaard, who won Barca's second European Cup, was a shadow of his former self in his last few months in the job in 2008.
Tata needs to win either the league or the Champions League this season for his face to fit sufficiently to be in charge next term. But he may turn the tables completely and decide that, like Guardiola, he wants no such thing anyway. It's not like he needs to work to earn money.
A defeat to resurgent league leaders Real Madrid in Sunday's Clasico would likely harden his resolve to make such a decision.
Andy Mitten - @AndyMitten
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- Pep Guardiola