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How Guardiola made his mark at Barcelona

With Josep Guardiola set to be reunited with FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, UEFA.com remembers his trophy-laden time at the Camp Nou.

Josep Guardiola cradles the UEFA Champions League trophy after Barcelona's 2011 final win
Josep Guardiola cradles the UEFA Champions League trophy after Barcelona's 2011 final win ©Getty Images

This article was written in April 2012 following Josep Guardiola's decision to end his four-year stint as FC Barcelona coach. He is now set to return for the first time with FC Bayern München in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

Such has been his incredible impact over the last four seasons that everyone will have his, or her, defining image of FC Barcelona during the Josep Guardiola years.

His repositioning of Lionel Messi as what is now commonly known as the 'false nine', moving the 24-year-old into a deep central striking role and allowing him licence to confuse and trick midfielders and defenders, has unleashed a torrent of goals rarely seen in football history. Perhaps that is yours.

The risk, and thrill, of consistently playing three at the back in order to produce superiority of numbers in midfield and, thus, more scoring chances, and latterly his choice of regularly using four forwards, will be an abiding memory for some football romantics.

Then there are the crown jewel occasions. Rome in 2009 produced a UEFA Champions League final of immense guts when a team ravaged by suspensions and injuries simply refused to give Manchester United FC any meaningful possession.

That victory allowed Barcelona to contest, and win, the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, after which Guardiola broke down into great, heaving emotional sobs on the pitch. Some will have that as their outstanding moment of the 41-year-old's reign.

Or Wembley? Amid the wealth of praise for Barcelona's 3-1 win against United in 2011, many former footballers, current coaches and respected media considered that they had seen perhaps the greatest team of all time.

Guardiola has thrilled us with his elegance, his wit, his work ethic, his faith in talented young players and the brilliance of his match planning. Receiving the Catalan Gold Medal of Honour last year he made a point of praising his scouts and his video editors and admitted that perhaps his greatest individual pleasure, even including the trophies, was that 'Eureka' moment when, after long hours of DVD study, a metaphorical light bulb lit up above his head and he "knew, absolutely knew" how his team would beat their rivals.

When that light started to dim it was time for him to step back from the intense lifestyle which brought him, and his team, so much glory. Yet, for all the success in terms of trophies, perhaps it is his wider influence on the European game which is his greatest achievement.

There are obvious candidates who have made public their desire to mimic the flowing, elegant, possession-based football which is intelligent, effective and wonderful to watch. In England's Premier League, Wigan Athletic FC and Swansea City AFC make it clear that they have a philosophy that the ball is their friend and that creative, attack-minded possession of the football is their main weapon.

In Spain the like-minded Marcelo Bielsa has taken Athletic Club, quite thrillingly, to the Copa del Rey and UEFA Europa League showpieces. It is the same school of football. It seems coaches, scouts, parents, kids, professional players, indeed anyone who loves football, yearn to learn about and emulate the 'Barça' way of playing. Effectively the Guardiola way.

Beyond the magnificence of having won 13 senior trophies plus the Spanish fourth division while Barcelona B coach, and with a Copa del Rey final against Bielsa's team to come, what more impressive legacy could there possibly be than to make millions around the world more in love with football?

But all of us who love the game will hope that this is au revoir and not goodbye. Raúl González, in theory an implacable rival after most of a football lifetime in the colours of Real Madrid CF, but in reality a friend and an admirer, put it best. "Football needs Pep Guardiola and people like him." Well said. Rest well, Señor Guardiola. Come back soon.