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FC Barcelona: Welcome to the Club

Pep knew his time was up.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Pep knew his time was up. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Rewind to two weeks ago. Barcelona were in full flight, chasing down a faltering Madrid and paired with arguably the weakest side still in the Champions League. Culés began to dream of a six trophy season again. But it wasn't to be.

It started with a night to forget at the Bridge. A 9-0-1 formation prevailed as Chelsea snatched a one goal advantage to take to the Camp Nou. Guardiola admitted Chelsea had the advantage but remained quietly confident that 90 minutes would be long enough for Barça to turn it around. As did the majority of the footballing world. Besides, the "Big Ears" competition had to be put to one side, the biggest game on the planet was on the horizon.

Madrid had played their semifinal a day earlier and arrived in Barcelona the same day as the Catalans returned. Mourinho's men had also experienced defeat but importantly had snatched an away goal, a luxury that Barcelona should have been awarded had their finishing been up to the absurdly high standard that it usually is.

Nevertheless the Camp Nou was ready. 90,000+ filled the stadium while millions watched across the globe. Heartache would hit again though for Barça, a scrappy goal for Sami Khedira gave Real the lead. The Catalans battled hard but the scenario was all too familiar as Madrid set up a wall that Messi and co. could not break.

Hope sprung from the foot of substitute Alexis Sánchez as he levelled the score, moments after the celebrations were cut short as the man who Culés love to hate ripped out the hearts of the home crowd and stomped on them. Cristiano Ronaldo broke clear of the defence, skipped past Valdés and slotted the ball into the net. Gesturing to the crowd "Calm down, I'm here."

Perhaps the only thing sorer for the Barça eyes would have been Mourinho himself running onto the pitch, timing his run and connecting sweetly with a cross that leaves Valdés motionless. Leaving Puyol to burst into tears while Messi declares that he has been a Madrid fan his whole life.

That was it though. The league over. Mourinho had won, Pep was beaten. So the mind switches to the cup, as an antidote for the heartbreak of losing a league. A forgiving Camp Nou crowd welcomed their beloved players onto the pitch. The Londoners played in the same mind frame as before, 8-2-0, but Barça broke through.

Sergio Busquets, the man who missed an open goal in the first leg, met Isaac Cuenca's low cross to put Barça level. After a moment of stupidity from Chelsea captain John Terry, Andrés Iniesta doubled Barça's lead both in the night and in the tie. Home and dry. But again luck intervened, Ramires scored just before half time and a resilient Chelsea defence would not allow anything to pass.

It looked bleak and got worse when Fernando Torres stumbled into space, skilled past Valdés and crushed Barça hearts for the second time that week. The players were visibly broken, sharing a few tears with the crowd, and so was the coach. Guardiola's press conference was filled with confusion. Pep stated he would have to watch the match again on DVD to understand just how Barça lost. But his best answer came when asked "What do you say to the young fan who has cried for the first time tonight?" "Welcome to the club."

If you were to ask any Culé which heartbreak hurt the most my money is on the one delivered Friday morning. Pep was leaving. Fatigue had got the better of him and he felt it was best for both him and the club to draw his era to a close. Players in attendance at his press conference bared an expression similar to Wednesday night's. But his resignation was not met with anger, just gratitude mixed with sadness.

The club though, as always, were logical in their progression. The club chose to put faith in their reserve manager as they do with their players. As Pep leaves, Tito enters, or rather Tito comes to the forefront. Pep's men becomes Tito's troops and the new boss must face an "eye-catching" opponent in José Mourinho.

All of this has led me to think that a season without the league and Champions League is good for Barcelona. The hunger will be back next season. The preseason plans have already been announced and it is obvious Barcelona mean business. No touring this time but a series of games concentrated in Europe, designed to test Barcelona and prepare them for the mental and physical fatigue that comes with a Barça season.

So Guardiola was right. Change was needed at the club and Pep recognised that. There is a long way between now and the start of the next season, especially with the Euros and Olympics on the horizon, but Barça will be ready. Tito is hungry and is determined to not be known as "the one who José poked in the eye."

Expect big things next season, Pep does.

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