It's almost all over. Pep Guardiola leads out Barcelona for the very last time tonight as the Catalans face Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey. And as the world watches in wonder as the 41-year-old's magical management of the Blaugrana reaches its climax, so too will Marcelo Bielsa.
The Argentine Coach welcomed Guardiola into his home in Rosario when Pep was first preparing to take the leap into management. As Bielsa spoke that day, Pep listened – and he learned.
The barbeque the departing Barca man attended at his mentor’s house is famously said to have lasted for 11 hours, but the meat in this meeting had little to do with the carne. Bielsa revealed his press strategy to Guardiola, telling the former Barca captain that he never gave interviews because he deemed it unfair to attend to some media and not others. The solution – equality.
It's a ploy Pep has stuck to in his time at Camp Nou. Nevertheless, the press have had plenty of opportunity to hear Guardiola speak. "I have had 546 press conferences and talked for 242 hours," the Catalan coach claimed on Thursday.
Every time he has been asked about Bielsa, he responded with glowing praise. And when Pep decided to leave Barca in November, he had planned to recommend the Argentine as his successor. "You know what I think of him," the 41-year-old told reporters at the turn of the year. "Bielsa's ability is unquestionable." The club, however, had other plans.
The admiration is mutual. Bielsa revealed earlier this season that he felt reluctant to call the Catalan after his friend's formidable success. And asked about his mentor-pupil relationship with Guardiola, he mused: "After all the success and everything he has won, you have to wonder who is the mentor here and who is the pupil …"
In those 11 hours in Rosario, press strategy was the icing on the cake. Pep and Bielsa waxed lyrical about the beautiful game, with the Catalan absorbing El Loco's words of wisdom on tactics, pressing and movement. This season, the similarites between the respective philosophies have been there for all to see.
Indirectly, the Argentine played his part in this process as Pep constructed a brilliant Barca side lauded as the world's greatest. Tonight, they can cap off an exquisite, exhilarating and electric era by claiming a 14th trophy in four fantastic seasons. But whatever the result at the Vicente Calderon, it seems so fitting that Bielsa should be there too.