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What can you do for an encore, Pep?

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Most managers use their first season at a new club as a foundation for the future, but Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola laid the foundation, built the house, and even installed a swimming pool during his inaugural campaign.

Guardiola was managing the Barca B squad this time last season, and had just helped them earn promotion from the Third Division to Second Division B.

Fast-forward one year, and he has made history as the boss of the only La Liga side to ever win the treble, capturing the league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League titles all in the same season.

The 38-year-old Guardiola started his coaching career with the reserves just one year ago, and now has put himself among Europe's elite coaches in 12 months time.

So, how do you follow that up?

For starters, his team will face UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk in the final of the European Super Cup, while another trophy will be on the table in December at the FIFA Club World Cup.

Pep Guardiola has made history as the boss of the only La Liga side to ever win the treble.
Outside of repeating his 2008-09 success next season and adding one or both of those other trophies, Guardiola has an impossible act to follow.

Not only did he help Barca break Real Madrid's two-year title reign as league champions, but his Catalan side destroyed Real at the Bernabeu by a 6-2 score line in May to go along with a 2-0 home victory against Real in December.

Barca has also put together one of the best offensive seasons in the history of La Liga with 104 goals through 37 games, and they can break Real's record of 107 set back in 1989-90 if they score four goals against Deportivo on Saturday.

All of these impressive achievements would look good for a well-established manager like Sir Alex Ferguson or Guus Hiddink, but the fact that Guardiola has accomplished all of this in his first season is incredible.

One of the biggest reasons why Guardiola was handed the Barca job was because of the club's disappointing third-place finish in the league under former boss Frank Rijkaard last season.

The Dutchman led Barca to the Champions League title in 2006, but after the club finished 18 points back of champions Real Madrid and in third place, the Barca board had seen enough.

They appointed Guardiola as manager in June, and although he didn't exactly inherit a relegation-battling team, Guardiola made his mark on the club immediately.

He helped to create some more space in midfield for brilliant playmakers like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi by selling off Ronaldinho and Deco.

He also parted ways with fullback Gianluca Zambrotta and signed arguably the world's best right-back, Dani Alves, from Sevilla for over $40 million.

The results were not immediate as Barca took just one point from its first two league games, but things clicked soon after and the club went on a 21-game unbeaten run to seize control of the league.

As impressive as Barca was in La Liga this season, they saved their best performance for last as they toppled Manchester United, 2-0, in the Champions League final.

United entered the match as defending champions, and were riding a record 25- game unbeaten streak in the competition.

Guardiola would be without three of his four regulars in defense with Alves and Eric Abidal out due to suspension, while Rafael Marquez was sidelined because of a knee injury.

This forced Guardiola to completely reshuffle his back line, and he moved midfielder Yaya Toure into central defense along with Gerard Pique, while captain Carles Puyol was pushed out wide and 35-year-old Sylvinho was inserted into the starting 11.

The result was that his back line held up well, with Puyol producing a great performance and the former United man Pique holding things together in the middle.

Even more impressively, Guardiola went head-to-head with a living legend in Ferguson, and he dealt the Scotsman his first-ever loss in a European final.

Much of the credit for the win can be directed to the Barca midfield of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, which completely dominated the United midfield throughout the match.

But Guardiola's insistence that Barca attack United and take risks also played a crucial role.

The English champions went on the attack at the start and had Barca pinned back for the first eight minutes, but it took just one counter-attack chance for Samuel Eto'o to put the Spanish side in front, and United was never the same from that point on.

The Red Devils resembled a playground bully that had its nose bloodied by the kid that finally had enough, and they tucked their tails between their legs and ran the other way, with Guardiola leading the charge.

"If you attack and are daring you have more chances of winning," said Guardiola.

"We have not been cowards, never in the match. There's nothing more dangerous than not taking risks.

"We have worked many, many hours this season and this is our payment.

"We are not the best team in history but we have played the best season in history to win the three titles."

The win allowed the leather tie-wearing Barca boss to become the third youngest manager to win Europe's top club competition, and the youngest of the Champions League era.

He also joined a small group of men to have won the trophy as both a player and a manger, a fraternity that includes names like Miguel Munoz, Giovanni Trapattoni, Johan Cruyff, Carlo Ancelotti and Rijkaard.

It would be easy for all of this early success to go his head, but Guardiola has remained humble and is quick to deflect the credit to his players.

"I'm fortunate to have these players," is his only response when asked about this past season.

However, the club's president, Joan Laporta, believes that Guardiola's success is due to his philosophy and his familiarity with the club's history.

"We chose a philosophy, not a brand," Laporta told the Telegraph. "Guardiola knows the club and he is part of its history. He represents continuity with Johan Cruyff's model."

Guardiola was the captain of Cruyff's European champion side in 1992, but Xavi feels as though his approach is the reason for his success.

"He remembers everything, and everything is done for a reason, not just for the sake of it," the midfielder said.

Whatever the reason for his success, Guardiola has set the bar incredibly high, leaving the rest of the soccer world anxiously waiting to see the second act.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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