Has Pep got an ace up his sleeve?
After yesterday’s 4-0 win over Getafe, Barcelona are just a single point off Real Madrid and top spot in La Liga. In Lionel Messi, they have the leading scorer and "assister" in Spanish football, while long-term absentee Ibrahim Afellay has just been given medical clearance to feature again after six months on the sidelines. Everything appears rosy in the Catalan capital, aside from one key aspect: why hasn’t Pep Guardiola signed a new contract? Could it be that the most successful coach in FC Barcelona history is getting ready to leave the club for a second time?
Well, that wouldn’t add up; after all, the players have demonstrated that complacency is no longer an issue while the desire to win trophies has not diminished, and may have even increased over the past few months. Considering the 10 point deficit, most expected Barcelona to turn their attentions to the UEFA Champions League, but not so. The players have rallied and, at worst, the gap is now down to four points (assuming Real Madrid win tonight). At best it will remain a solitary point. If Guardiola needed proof that his players are as motivated as ever, he now has plenty.
So then, why the delay?
Scenario One: Pep Guardiola actually leaves
I hate this scenario, but here’s an outline. At the end of the season, Pep calls a press conference in which he announces that he will not be extending his contract at FC Barcelona. Whether it is because the Blaugrana have fallen short domestically and/or continentally, or because he wants to leave on a high after domestic and/or continental success, it’s a glum situation. Thanks to Guardiola’s insistence on one-year rolling contracts, this situation is not entirely new to Culés, in fact, some suggested that Pep was ready to walk away at the end of his first season – retire at the top and all that.
Turns out, obviously, that they were wrong, and there is an overwhelming possibility that "they" will be wrong again, but it is the most straight-forward reason for not renewing a contract.
Scenario Two: Guardiola is waiting on promises from the President
Sandro Rosell has always been an unknown quantity, but for the most part, credit where credit’s due, he has made the right decisions at the helm. Signing Cesc Fabregas back might not have been his decision exclusively, but his negotiating saved the club a lot of money and crucially took away some of the pressure. The same can be said with Alexis Sanchez, while his much-maligned deal with the Qatar Foundation has been largely forgotten and will remain a valuable (and free) source of finance in the years to come.
However, Rosell remains at odds with Joan Laporta and with that, everything Laporta favours. Johan Cruyff was a crucial part of this club’s transformation, and Laporta respected that. He took advice from Cruyff, appointed Cruyff’s protégé and adhered to the Cruyffista principles. Rosell did nothing of the sort, stripping the Dutchman of his honorary role, excluding him from club matters entirely. While I’m sure Rosell maintains a professional – if a little frosty – relationship with Guardiola, there must be some part of Rosell that longs to make a decision that will define his presidency. With Guardiola in charge, Rosell is merely extending the Laporta era under a new name. Is Rosell being hesitant about re-signing Pep because he wants to make his own mark on FC Barcelona? Doubtful, but certainly possible.
Scenario Three: The contract renewal is to be used as a "weapon"
With the gap down to four/two/one point(s), La Liga success could still be in the cards for the Blaugrana. However, the Clasico will only count for three points, and that’s if Barcelona win. They need someone else to help them out, and at the time of writing, that "someone" could be Atletico Madrid. It could be Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, or even Sporting Gijon, but whatever happens, our fate depends on Real Madrid dropping points. For the most part, three points aside, we cannot control that, but maybe, just maybe we can influence it.
For example, what effect would Guardiola’s renewal have on an already faltering Real Madrid?
Firstly, a public announcement would lift the Barcelona players and morale would raise yet further. Usually, morale and confidence equates to wins, and Barcelona could realistically emerge victorious in all of their remaining league matches. Should that be the case, Real’s margin for error will vanish entirely. Drop a single point and the title remains in Cataluña for another season at least. In that sense, Guardiola’s renewal would have a small impact, but nothing overly major.
On the other hand, would the Catalan’s be the only one’s affected by an announcement? How would Jose Mourinho react? How would Real’s squad react? Would morale drop in the Madridista camp? Would that influence Mourinho to stay or leave the capital? In a season where Guardiola has increasingly used press conferences to his benefit, and almost exactly a year after his psychological hammer-blow of a press conference could a well-timed public renewal be the next step in his grand plan?