FC Barcelona said “goodbye” and “thank you” to one of its own on Saturday. Manager Pep Guardiola is stepping down at the end of the season, and the club sent him off with a unique and moving ceremony.
Barcelona’s last home game of the season just so happened to be against city rivals Espanyol Barcelona. Before the game, Guardiola was greeted by a massive banner that covered the lower two sections of the cavernous Nou Camp stadium.
Guardiola’s men thanked their coach by thrashing Espanyol 4-0. They were led by the star of stars, Lionel Messi, who scored all four goals. After the fourth, which gave him an astonishing 50 La Liga goals this season, Messi ran to the sidelines and embraced Guardiola. He was joined by a number of his teammates.
However, the ceremony (and included tears) was reserved for the minutes following the game. Guardiola led his team from the dressing room back onto the field, where nearly 90,000 fans, colleagues and protegees waited to bid the club icon farewell.
Fans held signs and banners aloft with messages written in a number of languages. They all said the same thing in their own way: “Thanks, Pep.”
The clean-shaven Guardiola took the microphone, walked to the center of the field and addressed the adoring crowd.
“Life has given me this gift during the past five years of being able to live with these players and enjoy this spectacle,” Guardiola said. “I have been the privileged one, to feel so loved and admired during all these years. Many thanks to all, above all to those who I have worked with every day.”
“Know that I will miss you all,” Guardiola told the crowd. “But I am leaving you all in the good hands of these players.”
Barcelona players, coaches and staff hoisted Guardiola into the air, danced with him in the center circle and formed an honor guard and applauded Guardiola as he left the field.
Guardiola cited a need to “recharge his batteries” as his primary reason for stepping down. The 41-year-old became Barca’s boss in 2008 (replacing Frank Rijkaard), and led the team for which he was once a star player to 13 trophies in four seasons.
Tito Vilanova, Guardiola’s former roommate and longtime assistant, will assume the manager’s job at the end of the season. But work remains to be done. Barcelona plays Athletic Bilbao in the Copa Del Rey final on May 25.
Watch Barcelona bid Guardiola a fond farewell in the video below.
Banner photo via AP Photo/Manu Fernandez