Pep Guardiola There were only seven minutes left on the Camp Nou scoreboard during Sunday's 5-1 rout over Valencia when Barça fans aired a song that is far from usual.
"Guardiola, Guardiola, Guardiola," they hollered from the sud o del nord. It didn't sound quite right, like the word had too many syllables. The usual chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi" or "Xavi, Xavi, Xavi" are easier on the tongue, but the Barça fans wanted — needed - to make their point to their brilliant coach. Needed to show him that they love him.
Guardiola had looked tense and distracted. Despite his side coming from behind to win 5-1 and despite Messi destroying Spain's third best team with four goals to move him up to a staggering 42 from 40 games so far this season, the Barça coach since 2008 appeared agitated.
Guardiola, 41, is out of contract on June 30th. He's always refused to sign a long term deal, preferring to make his decisions on an annual basis. He says that he needs to "feel" that it's right, just as he didn't "feel" that Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o or Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a future at the club. Feelings matter to Guardiola.
He signed a one year deal on February 7 last year and will probably sign another one year deal very soon, but it will be on his terms and when he's ready. In the meantime, the backsides of cules twitch a little bit. What if, they wonder, he decides to go to England? To Manchester City to replace Roberto Mancini or to United to take over when Sir Alex Ferguson's ready? What if he takes Lionel Messi with him? What if he just decides that he's had enough and wants to stop before he loses all his hair?
Guardiola likes England. He's just co-operated on his own soon-to-be-published biography for the English speaking market. He likes the fact that managers are allowed to build dynasties and enjoy longevity. Spaniards are baffled that the likes of Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been in their jobs for so long. The fuse is much shorter in Spain because it's laced with political subterfuge, continual shifting plates of power and more media influence. You won't find any mention of Barça's most successful president Joan Laporta at the club — and he only departed in 2010. That's the Laporta who insisted that Guardiola was appointed when others wanted Mourinho, a Laporta who remains close to Guardiola.
One month Frank Rijkaard was flavour of the month at Barca, the next he was out. Another former coach, Johann Cruyff was like a god, until he fell out with Barça's president.
Cruyff remains Barça's longest serving coach with eight years to his name. He also set the template which is used today by his finest student, Guardiola.
Guardiola knows how it all works at FC Barcelona. He's a local boy who grew up at the club and became a sublime — and underrated outside Spain - player for them. It would be a wrench for him to leave, but he's done it before and claims that some of the happiest and most inspiring moments in his life were in Brescia and Mexico as his career was winding down.
His personal circumstances have changed since. His family are no loner quite so young and they're settled at home in Barcelona's Zona Alta. His wife has run a little shop for years and his kids go to a normal school rather than one favoured by the ultra rich. The Guardiola home is an apartment far less ostentatious than those of most of his players, his favourite restaurant an Italian next to a fruit and veg market. He's a great coach and a great person, but it has to be on his terms. He likes to feel that he has control, not because he's an autocrat, but because, in the words of someone he admires so much, Sir Alex Ferguson, "the manager must be the most important person at a football club." And it's difficult to be in control of a behemoth like Barca, where enemies are always lurking in the shadows and actively hoping that you fail.
They are outweighed by his supporters, chiefly among his players who adore him. And that includes one who has given him more to worry about than most recently. Gerard Pique was grilled on his relationship with Guardiola, who dropped him last week, 12 hours after the Valencia victory. The fear with Pique is that he's become too distracted by the bright lights of fame and fortune and that he's not as focused as he could be. That he was speaking at the launch of a new fashion range he's put his name to was not lost on those inquisitorial journalists, but Pique said: "I'll always be grateful to Guardiola for giving me the chance to live these wonderful years. I'll never question his decisions."
All the players love Guardiola, who is already Barça's most successful ever coach with an astonishing 13 trophies (from a possible 16) after less than four seasons. His prime ambition now is for Barca to become the first team since Milan to retain the European Cup over 20 years ago. But the tide can turn quickly at Camp Nou and Guardiola knows it. That's why he'll make the decision when he's ready and nobody will push him into doing it any differently.