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Pep talk over

The king is dead, long live the king…

As expected Pep Guardiola has confirmed that he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season. Wednesday’s Champions League defeat to Chelsea may well have brought forward the announcement of his departure, but judging from his comments Guardiola’s mind had already been made up.

“I would like you to understand that this is not an easy decision for me, but I would like to explain my reasons for this decision,” he said. “I have always wanted short-term contracts. Four years is an eternity as Barca coach.

“In the month of October I announced to the president and to the sporting director that I thought my spell was coming to an end. The main reason I have taken this decision is because four years is many years.

“I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries. The demands have been great and I have not been able to rest much. I have to recover and the only way I can do that is by distancing myself. Otherwise, we would have ended up damaging each other.”

Guardiola is obviously a tough act to follow and rather than opting for a high profile external appointment, Barcelona have chosen to recruit from within by naming his assistant, Tito Vilanova, as his successor.

If there’s a better tribute to Guardiola in the English-speaking press than this Guardian piece written by World Soccer’s Sid Lowe, then please forward it to us.

Going going gone

Shanghai Shenhua have finally decided to sack coach Jean Tigana. Speculation over the Frenchman’s future has been rife, pretty much since he first set foot in the country and appeared less than comfortable with the rapturous reception he received at the airport.

A string of poor results cant have helped his cause, and before he even had a chance to say ‘Nicolas Anelka, now there’s a man whose loyalty I can rely on in a crisis’, there was talk of the players turning against him.

Anelka, who it should be stressed, was not at the forefront of any players’ revolt, drew parallels with the situation at his previous club, Chelsea.

“Changing the coach has provided (Chelsea) with a lot more space for imagination. The change of coach has set the club free in many aspects and that is why they are in the final,” Anelka told Reuters.

“There is a great possibility and a great chance for them to win the Champions League. I wish them all the best.

“We will try our best to work on the positives with the change. Of course, Chelsea is Chelsea and Shenhua is Shenhua.”

Goal of the day

Adrian’s brilliant volley from the edge of the area earned Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over Valencia and a place in next month’s Europa League final.

Assist of the day

Fernando Llorente’s drag back and lay off to Ibai Gomez for Atletico Bilbao’s second goal of the night against Sporting, was a thing of beauty.

Settle with a handshake

I’m not sure what Sepp Blatter would make of the decision not to stage the traditional pre-match handshake before QPR’s visit to Chelsea on Sunday.

FIFA president Blatter it was, who suggested that the best way to settle disputes between players was with a handshake when the game has finished but, after taking legal advice, the English Premier League has opted to scrap it before it has even started.

”After discussions with both Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers about the potential and specific legal context in relation to John Terry and Anton Ferdinand the decision has been taken to suspend the handshake convention for Sunday’s match,” the league said in a statement.

The Chelsea captain is accused of racially insulting QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, although Terry has been eager to remind people that he is not ‘that type of player’.

Power cut

A report by Germany’s FIFA member Theo Zwanziger, to be presented to the world governing body’s congress next month, has called for the British vice-presidency to be removed.

Instead, Zwanziger recommends that the home nations’ place on the FIFA executive committee, which they have been guaranteed since 1947, will go to UEFA to elect. The guaranteed British place has its origins in a Britain v Rest of Europe match in front of 130,000 spectators at Hampden Park that raised £35,000 to get the world governing body back on its feet after the second world war. It has long be the source of resentment among the rest of the world, although in truth, it has hardly brought with it much influence.

The FA’s general secretary, Alex Horne, conceded recently that the position, which is shared between the four British associations, was of limited value.

He said: “We are open-minded about it. If you look at it objectively the vice-presidency is quite anachronistic and I wouldn’t fight tooth and nail to keep it if I’m honest.”

Neymar calls for peace

The latest footage from Santos’ Libertadores Cup defeat at Bolivar appears to show Brazil striker, Neymar, being knocked out by an orange thrown from the stands.

Neymar has called for calm ahead of the return leg on May 10.

”This war must end,” he said. “This is very dangerous. I was attacked with objects in my mouth and eyes.”

Neymar also admitted he had only felt the pain and didn’t know what the object was.

“I do not know what I was attacked with,” he added. “The only thing I know is that it hurt like hell.”

UEFA stands firm

UEFA has confirmed that it will not change its rules and for next months’ Champions League final between Bayern Munich reserves and Chelsea’s overpaid benchwarmers.

European football’s governing body was forced to speak out after the  international players’ union, FIFPro, requested an amnesty for those players suspended for the final.

Bayern will be without Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luiz Gustavo whilst Chelsea must deal with the absences of Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires for the final on May 19.

“The regulations of the competition are established at the beginning of the competition and remain in place for the duration of the season,” a UEFA spokesman told the Press Association.

“Any changes to the regulations for the future would need to be proposed by the club competitions committee and approved by the UEFA executive committee.”

Chelsea skipper John Terry, who was sent off for serious foul play during Tuesdays’s semi-final win over Barcelona, and was therefore not the subject of FIFPro’s plea for clemency, is somewhat ironically, eligible to collect the trophy should Chelsea win.

Whether Terry would have the gall to do so, having undermined the efforts of his team mates in the semi-final, is another matter. Somehow, I suspect he will.

Liverpool soap opera

Joe Cole looks like he could be set to return to Liverpool after Lille, the club with whom he has spent the season on loan, admitted that they couldn’t afford his wage demands.

After undergoing something of a revival in France, Cole is keen to stay, and Lille are just as keen to keep him.

“It’s rare that an England international comes to France and that he then publicly declares he wants to stay,” said chairman Michel Seydoux.

Even rarer – possibly without precedent – is one prepared to accept a pay cut to do so.

Should he return to Anfield, it seems likely that Cole will reunite with Alberto Aquilani, who has been told by loan club Milan they will not be activating their options to buy him this summer.

Aquilani’s loan deal includes a clause that stipulates the Rossoneri must sign him for £6 million if he makes 25 appearances. However, he is three short with only four matches left,  and having started only one Serie A game since December 20, it looks like he is on his way back to Liverpool.

Reds’ boss Kenny Dalglish, who must have thought he’d seen the last of both Cole and Aquilani, claimed that the Italian club have acted in an underhand manner.

“I don’t know what to expect of anyone else, but if you think that you are representing your club in a fit and proper manner, that’s your call,”  he said.

“We’ve done everything right from our side so how they want to play it and what they want to do – that’s up to them. If they (Milan) don’t want him, tell the boy you don’t want him. They will do what they have to do.”

Like much of their campaign, it all sounds like a plot culled from a bad soap opera, which coincidentally, from next season, Liverpool will actually be.

FOX Soccer, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Sun – draw your own conclusions from that – is to screen a fly-on-the-wall documentary chronicling what goes on behind the scenes at Anfield.

Liverpool chairman Tom Werner added: “I expect that it will be compelling programming as Liverpool will provide unprecedented access.

“This will be an amazing opportunity for our fans to see a new side of the club.”

After a torrid few months during which they have made the headlines for many of the wrong reasons, if any club could do with presenting a new side to the public, it is Liverpool.

Finally…

Five hours after their semi-final defeat to Atheltic Bilbao, Sporting’s players walked onto their own Alvalade pitch to thank supporters who had waited in the cold and rain to greet the team.

At 3.20 am several hundred supporters were still in the stadium, determined to show their appreciation to the players for their efforts in this season’s Europa League.

Coach Sa Pinto was handed the microphone and said: “Good night Sportinguista family. Before all else I want to thank you for your support and dedication. Although we didn’t manage to realise your dream, the players gave it everything they had. Thank you and Viva o Sporting!”

Earlier, In Bilbao, there been a wonderful moment involving both sets of supporters. As the disconsolate Sporting fans trooped out of San Mames stadium, they were greeted by a huge number of their Athletic counterparts who applauded them for theirs and their team efforts.

It was a fitting denouement to what had been an enthralling evening of football.

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