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Guardiola not a happy 'camper'

Unless you've been there, you won't understand. Heck, even if you have been there and if you're the kind of inveterate football animal whose existence is defined by what happens inside the chalky lines, you probably still won't get it. But if you're an intelligent, sensitive man like Frank Rijkaard, you'll know where Pep Guardiola is coming from. Rijkaard, his predecessor at the Nou Camp, has been there.

Odds are, Rijkaard understands why, despite being pound for pound the most successful coach in the club's history, despite the six trophies in 12 months, despite being Catalan born and bred, despite being 39 and handsome and wealthy, Guardiola might just want to walk away from it all before it is too late.

When Guardiola was appointed coach of Barcelona in the summer of 2008, he signed a two-year contract. Since then, he has turned down the opportunity to extend his deal, although he did make sure that his assistants were given pay rises, and has said that he will postpone a decision until the end of the season.



exhausted

The official reason is that he wants to wait until after the club's presidential elections this year, which will mean Joan Laporta leaving his post. The president has overseen one of the most successful spells in the club's history, but, having served his new term, must step aside by June 15. However, those around Guardiola suggest there is more to it. Put simply, the man is physically and mentally exhausted.

"(Guardiola) is a very thoughtful person and he knows what he means to the club," Laporta said last month. "He wants to carry on, but there are a number of things he wants to think about. I am optimistic, but it's not something that you should decide in the short term."

Those who have had the privilege of spending time with the Barcelona coach will know what Laporta means. Few men are as thoughtful and deliberate. And even fewer would have acted the way he has. Most coaches approach their senior officials for a new contract and hefty pay rise moments after winning silverware. He could have easily done so.

After all, he was paid less than £2m last season, even with all the bonuses he earned. Were he in England, he would not even be in the top ten. Why not sign a long extension and get a nice bump in salary?

Besides, contracts aren't worth the paper they're written on; he could still have resigned at the end of the season and negotiated a nice payout.

But that is not what Guardiola does. Money is secondary. The bigger concern is burnout. And, precisely because he is, first and foremost, a Barcelona fan, he knows the history of the club and what it can do to managers. Especially Catalan ones.

If he lasts the season, he will be Barcelona's longest-serving Catalan coach in 40 years. For a club so steeped in their regional identity, it is a remarkable statistic.

Equally remarkable is that, because of the way coaching Barcelona can be so brutal and all-consuming, only three men have spent as many as five consecutive seasons in the job. Rijkaard was one and by the time it ended, by his admission, he had become a nervous wreck who had to endure serious domestic problems and ended up moving into a hotel adjacent to the Nou Camp.

Professional athletes are conditioned to endure, to press on through pain and uncertainty, to not let down their team-mates. It's a military-style ethos drilled into them from a young age and, presumably, Guardiola is no different.



ICON

Compounding everything is his status as a Catalan and a club icon. Having built one of the greatest sides in the city's history, how can he turn his back on the club and walk away? Should he not show loyalty to Catalonia and to "Barcelonismo"? Would it not be a form of treason to leave it in someone else's hands?

Tough questions, which explain why Guardiola is in no hurry to commit. Having made history, it is time to take stock and to decide whether it is worth it. Moments after winning the Club World Cup last month, he burst into tears. Those watching on TV were probably convinced they were tears of joy. But, as it later emerged, Guardiola was turning to his assistants, asking: "What now? Where do we go from here?"

Few men are as emotionally invested in their jobs. Fewer still are introspective enough to realise what is happening to them. If he does decide to say no más, it will be a loss to football.

But perhaps it will be a gain for those who believe there is more to life.

© The Times, London