Pep Guardiola has confirmed he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.
At a press conference overnight the announcement that had been expected was made. Barcelona have also been swift to appoint his successor, naming Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova as the new manager.
Club president Sandro Rosell told the room: "We have called you today to announce that Pep Guardiola will not continue in charge of the team next season.
"Thank you Pep for all the happiness you have brought us and for bringing a model of football that can never be questioned." He went on to describe the departing coach as "the best manager in the history of the club."
The Spaniard informed Rosell he would not be renewing his contract yesterday in what was a three-hour meeting. The 41-year-old spoke with his players at their training ground this morning.
Addressing the media, Guardiola explained that the decision to leave the reigning European champions was not a straight forward one.
"I want you to understand that this is not a simple decision for me," he said.
"At the beginning of December I announced to the chairman that I was seeing the end of my era at Barcelona. Obviously we couldn't say that publicly.
"Now we are out of the two main competitions it is a good time to announce this. I did not want to continue with the confusion. The reason is simple: four years is enough. The new coach will give things that I am unable to give any more. To be in front of the media every three days for four years is very demanding."
He went on to praise his players, some of whom were in attendance at the press conference, including Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets.
"I want to thank my players who are responsible for everything that has happened here. It has been a great pleasure to train them. I have tried to do my job with a lot of passion."
Speculation about Guardiola's future has been rumbling all season, with the former Barca player noncommittal over his plans to renew his rolling contract. That speculation reached a crescendo these past few days following defeats to Chelsea and Real Madrid.
On Tuesday they were knocked out of the Champions League by the Londoners, losing 3-2 on aggregate and with it relinquishing their crown as European champions.
They also gave away their La Liga title to bitter rivals Real, losing 2-1 at the Nou Camp on Saturday.
Just hours after the European exit at the hands of Chelsea, Guardiola was holding meetings with the club's hierarchy. It is believed he was offered a blank cheque book to sign players and told he would be given total control of club decisions but the offer couldn't dissuade Guardiola from feeling he had endured enough after stepping up from the Barca B team in 2008.
"When I was appointed, I started jumping like a little kid. To be able to take charge of the 'A' team was unbelievable. Time has taken its toll and I rise each day and don't feel the same. I am going with the understanding that I have done my duty," he said today.
The former Barcelona and Spain midfielder has enjoyed a hugely successful stint with the Catalan club winning 13 trophies in his four seasons in charge, whilst playing a passing style of football that has been widely acclaimed as the best in the world.
Among his haul of trophies are two Champions League crowns, three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, three Supercopas, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.
Explaining the decision to appoint Guardiola's assistant, Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said: "We've always said that if the team needs players, we look at home first [Barca B]. What do we have here at home? Tito.
"We chose Tito because he represents the idea and the image. He has commitment and personality."
Come the end of the season, Guardiola can expect an approach from Chelsea. Owner Roman Abramovich is understood to be a firm admirer and not likely to pass up this opportunity to try and lure the Spaniard to Stamford Bridge. The west London outfit have already contacted his agent, Josep Maria Orobitg, although they may struggle to bring him to London, with Guardiola hinting at some time out of the game.
"The demands have been great and I have not been able to rest much. I have to recover and the only way I can do that is by distancing myself."
Gaurdiola also fired a warning that his departure does not signal the end of the dominance of the Catalan club, and endorsed his successor Vilanova.
"This club has a powerful force. It is unstoppable. Whoever will replace me will be able to take it on and do it marvellously.
"I think the club has taken the best decision possible.
"He is more than capable. The players know him. He will make few changes. He will give the club and these players something that I thought I could no longer give.
The press conference broke up with Guardiola being applauded by those in attendance, with some of the players in tears.
- THE INDEPENDENT