I rarely write about football in countries other than England because my knowledge of other European leagues is not sufficiently strong to write informed pieces. Today I am going to make an exception because I believe that Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs in the World, have made a terrible mistake.
Nobody is surprised to hear that Frank Rijkaard will be relieved of duties at the end of the season, but many people, myself included, have been shocked by the name of his replacement.
Some Barcelona fans may be thrilled by the news that Josep Guardiola is to be given the job. He is undoubtedly a legend at the Camp Nou after skippering the side to their first European Cup success and winning six La Liga titles with them between 1984 and 2001. After leaving Barcelona, Guardiola played bit parts for various clubs before retiring in 2006.
His only managerial role to date has been as the manager of the Barcelona reserve team since June last year. He was not believed to be the choice of many of the Board members at the club, but he is the man that the powerful President Laporta wanted.
Barcelona have had, by their own high standards, a terrible year. Defeat in the Champions League semi-final by Manchester United, without even scoring a goal, was the final straw after a poor La Liga campaign which has seen them drop to a likely third place finish. Barcelona needing to play in the Champions League qualifying rounds does not seem possible.
Just when it seemed that the season could get no worse, Barcelona travelled to the Bernabau to take on their bitter rivals Real Madrid. If it was not bad enough that Real had already been crowned champions and Barcelona had to clap them on to the field, they then proceeded to be humiliated in a 4-1 defeat.
In these circumstances, and with continuing talk of dressing room unrest, there was no way Rijkaard could keep his job. In fact, many people believe he should have gone in January and that if he had done, someone else could maybe have rescued the season for them.
Now with the decision finally made to part company with Rijkaard you would imagine that Laporta would be looking for a big name manager with a proven record of dealing with superstar players and achieving success to come on board.
The name on most peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lips was that of Jose Mourinho who has been hanging on for one of the big jobs and knows the Camp Nou well. He has achieved success in Europe, particularly with Porto but with Chelsea as well to a lesser extent. His record in domestic football is a remarkable one, second to none.
He has shown that he can handle big money, name players and keep a good spirit in the dressing room. In fact, he was just about the perfect candidate. He has all the necessary qualifications and is available. Other names mentioned have been Pellegrini at Villareal, Michael Laudrup at Getafe and LiverpoolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s boss Rafa Benitez. All of these have experience, pedigree, success or a mixture of all three.
Unbelievably Barcelona have turned to their inexperienced thirty-seven year old reserve team coach. I am not in any way being critical of Guardiola who may well be a fine coach and turn out to be a long and successful manager. It is just that in the current circumstances after two trophy less seasons, the need for immediate success is great. It is a real gamble to put their trust in one so untested.
Being a former captain and a strong supporter of Catalonia, Guardiola is guaranteed to be given every chance by the Barcelona faithful. But that wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t last for ever if early results are disappointing. He needs to hit the ground running and for a first time manager that will be far from easy. Which of the great players currently at the club will still be there at the start of next season? Will Guardiola manage to get the best out of under performing stars? Will the new manager have enough respect in the dressing room to obtain the cooperation of the highly paid, highly strung superstars?
The fact is that we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know the answer to any of these questions and in a season where a trophy win is essential it seems very strange that Barcelona have taken a risk with an untried and untested man at the helm.
I truly hope that Guardiola is successful, as Spanish football and European football both need a competitive and successful Barcelona. I just fear that whatever the reason President Laporta was so keen to give the job to his existing employee, it may just backfire on him in spectacular fashion.
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