Where does Guardiola go from here?
The trouble with winning everything is that the only thing left to do is lose. When Barcelona came back to beat Estudiantes in Abu Dhabi it completed a year in which they won every single tournament they entered: La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the European Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup and the World Club Championships.
The club had prepared special t-shirts for the players that declared: "Tot guanyat, tot per guanyar" - Everything won, everything to win. Pep Guardiola, though, turned to one of his assistants and asked: "What do we do now? Where do we go from here?"
Shot at immortality
He had told his players before the game "if you lose, you will still be the world's best team; if you win, you will be immortal." Now, the enormity of the achievement had been brought home; the task, an impossible task, had been completed. No one had ever done it before; no one could ever beat it. Few doubted that there this moment was something of a watershed.
Quite literally. As Barcelona collected the trophy, Guardiola burst into tears. For the first time in a year at the club, the mask of serenity had slipped.
Guardiola's debut season has been extraordinary on the pitch and off the pitch too. He has been measured, enchanting and intelligent in all of his public appearances; a strangely seductive figure, he has shown remarkable cool, decency and, above all, control. Only against Chelsea, when he sprinted up the touchline to celebrate Andres Iniesta's late winner, did he show unfettered emotion.
Now, in Abu Dhabi, at the conclusion of an unequalled and unbeatable season and a half, for the first time there was a public sign of the enormous pressure Guardiola had been under; of the fact that he was suffering, even if he had always looked so in control, even if his mastery of every situation had appeared so complete.
Catalan born and bred
Perhaps it should have been no surprise: Guardiola is a football obsessive and utterly committed to Barcelona - he has risen from ball boy to leader at the club, which he defends as the conduit to the desires of a nation without a state - who has given everything to the club this year. Taking them from 18 points behind Real Madrid, an embarrassment, to winners of absolutely everything has taken its toll.
He is noticeably slimmer and balder; the hair he does have is greyer. After the game, he admitted that he was very happy but "very tired". He has expressed an interest in working abroad. And privately (and if you read between the lines, publicly too), he has long suggested that Barcelona is a club with a high burnout factor. This year has, despite appearances, been hard. Very hard.
Winning took a toll
Here was the first public glimpse of that feeling. And Barcelona fans did not like the look of it one little bit.. It raised the possibility of something that terrifies them: the departure of the man who made them great, their flawless idol. Guardiola's contract expires at the end of the season. He is yet to even negotiate a new deal, let alone sign one. He is tired. And presidential elections loom, with the instability they bring.
Besides, he's won it all now. He is already the most successful coach the club has ever had; from here, the only way is down. Is it really worth going through all that again to try to repeat the unrepeatable? Will he ever be able to measure up to his own perfection?
As he himself asked: what does he do now? Tot Guanyat, sure. But for Guardiola is tot really still per guanyar. How quickly the most impossible dream hints at the worst of nightmares.
About the Author
Sid Lowe lives in Madrid and writes a weekly column for guardian.co.uk. He also writes regularly for the Guardian, World Soccer, FourFourTwo, and the Telegraph. He works as a commentator and panellist for Spanish, Asian and U.S. television, and has acted as translator for David Beckham, Michael Owen, and Thomas Gravesen.