Spanish Inquisition: Where Do Barcelona & Pep Guardiola Go From Here?

After a superlative 2008/09 season, Goal.com’s KS Leong takes a look at how Barcelona can possibly outdo themselves next term…

There’s no better time to be a Barcelona fan or player.

You have just become the first Spanish team to win ‘el triplete’. You have perhaps the best, second best and third best player in the world. You have one of the most unrivalled youth systems and your team plays the kind of extra-terrestrial football that often seems to be light years ahead of everyone else.

Only problem is, where do you go from here?

How can Pep Guardiola possibly top winning three titles in his rookie year as coach? Should he aim for four next term, five the following season and six the year after that? Unfortunately for him, at a club like Barcelona, you’re not allowed to set such modest targets.

After such a ridiculously glorious season, the only direction for the Blaugrana to go is up. Much further up. Their main goal next term will undoubtedly be to win every single possible trophy, from the Spanish and UEFA Supercup to the FIFA Club World Cup, to the triple crown they won this year. That’s six altogether.

Whether or not that’s an objective the club will set out for themselves at the start of the campaign, it will most certainly be what the press and the fans will be expecting. Anything short of another set of three trophies and the season could be deemed a flop. But is it even possible for a team to continue winning the treble year after year? Can Guardiola continue to scale new heights and become the greatest coach in football history?

In terms of trophy count, he has definitely given himself a huge head start.

Some of the top active managers in the world today, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink, Fabio Capello, can only dream of winning three titles on debut and to do it at just age 38.

Fergie, for example, took three and a half years before he won his first piece of silverware with Manchester United and he had to wait almost another decade before he lifted his first European Cup and won the treble.

But no-one dares to label Guardiola one of the greats just yet and there’s a good reason for that. It’s difficult, and almost preposterous, to bless someone with greatness after just one year at the job. Reaching the pinnacle is always easy, especially when you have the good fortune of being armed with some of the most shamelessly talented footballers ever assembled in one single dressing room. Maintaining that kind of supremacy and dominance over a period of time, on the other hand, is what truly defines excellence.

However, if you follow La Liga long enough, you will know that there’s no such thing as longevity in Spain when it comes to football, especially if you’re a club president of the team coach.

It’s very rare, nowadays, for any one presidential era or coaching tenure to last more than four or five years and Guardiola is unlikely to see the same kind of stability enjoyed by Sir Alex or Arsene Wenger, as much of an overnight hero as he is right now in the blue and maroon half of Catalunya.

A new chairman could step in and decide that he club need a change of direction or the pressure could get too intense for Pep somewhere down the road. He could lose control of the squad, like Frank Rijkaard, or lose the fans’ support and confidence.

Guardiola was praised for the way he recovered the squad’s unity and for his ability to bring a constellation of superstars together in the one team, much the same way Vicente del Bosque did at Real Madrid.

But can he continue to do that over the next few years? The biggest problem for a gargantuan side like Barca is that every player secretly wants to outshine the other, whether it’s on the pitch, up on the billboards on the highway, or in their personal savings accounts.

It’s not easy to keep everyone in the squad happy.

If Samuel Eto’o gets paid €13 million per season, will Messi demand €14? Will the Seydou Keita’s and Toure Yaya’s ask for and get a similar figure? Can Guardiola keep the youthful enthusiasm of Bojan Krkic, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique in check? How will he keep motivating the fringe players like the Hlebs or Gudjohnsens? These are the tribulations that the young tecnico has yet to encounter and when the time comes for him to confront these challenges, his true managerial skills will be put to the test.

Barcelona, as a team, have less to prove.

Having played the entire season with the same kind of enviable panache and elegance, their quality and talent is unquestionable. But to start their own legacy, they still have a long way to go before they can join the exalted elite such as the Real Madrid of the 50’s and 60’s, the Liverpool of the 70’s and 80’s or the AC Milan of the late 80’s and early 90’s.

A good place for Barca to begin will be to become the first side to win the Champions League back to back. From then on, they can start thinking about lifting the trophy three, four, five times in a row, or becoming the first club in Spain to claim the Primera Division throne six years in succession.

But, more importantly, they have to show that they can evolve and adapt alongside their rivals.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid will not lie down and bow down to them again next term and, rest assured, they will do everything they can and spend every pound and euro available to challenge the Catalan ascendancy.

As Madrid found out themselves this season, football moves forward extremely quickly and, if you rest on your laurels and neglect to reinforce every aspect of your squad, you will be left lagging behind.

Blaugrana technical director, Txiki Bergiristain along with Guardiola, now have the back-breaking task of recruiting new players without disrupting the balance and harmony of the current roster. One wrong choice in either buying or selling and they could undo all their hard work over the past 12 months.

One way or another, these are exciting times at the Camp Nou. And, as the cliche goes, Barcelona are about to go where no team have gone before. This is where their real journey begins.

KS Leong, Goal.com