Pep Guardiola's decision to step down as FC Barcelona boss caught much of the soccer world off guard. Few were as surprised as Lionel Messi, who was too emotional to attend the news conference announcing his coach's departure, according to FIFA.com.
"I was surprised and saddened by Guardiola's departure after four great years together with many titles," FIFA.com reports Messi told AS.
Messi and Guardiola were instrumental in each other's success. The Argentine forward was a budding star when Guardiola replaced Frank Rijkaard as Barcelona boss in 2008. Messi's name is now included among the game's all-time greats. His former coach says he compares "perfectly" to Michael Jordan in how he dominates the sport.
Guardiola constructed Barcelona's system of play to help Messi reach his full potential. It paid off handsomely, as Barcelona captured 14 major trophies and Messi captured three straight FIFA Ballon d'Or awards for being the best player in the world.
Tito Vilanova, Guardiola's assistant and longtime friend, will take the reins at the Catalan club. Messi thinks it will be difficult to continue the club's tradition of success, but that Vilanova is the right man for the job.
"It won't be easy after all that Pep achieved, but they did everything together and Tito was a great help in these years," Messi said.
At 24, Messi still has his best years ahead of him. If he can maintain his high performance level and consistency, Barcelona should continue to challenge for every major honor available to it.
"I am very happy for all the goals that I scored," said Messi. "My objective is the same every year — to keep learning, growing and improving."
By the end of last season, Messi stood above all other Barcelona players with 253 career goals. Even though his mentor has departed, fans should expect the superstar to fulfill his promise.