This week has truly been an amazing week of football. Chelsea were great against Barcelona and Bayern Munich got the better of a fabulous Real Madrid side. But the big story this week will be Pep Guardiola stepping down as Barcelona manager. People will ask why would he want to walk away after creating the best team probably anyone has ever seen.
The thing that stands out for me with Guardiola is that he is a man you can look at with only the utmost respect. Whether he wins or he loses, he holds himself with respect. You never see him not wanting to shake hands like Arsene Wenger, or losing his cool like Kenny Dalglish does week in week out when things aren’t going his way.
The reason he can walk away from the top job in world football is because he has his priorities right.
Since I was a boy nothing mattered more to me than being a footballer. It was like an addiction for me. You give up everything to get where you want. I am reminded of leaving home at 16 to do an apprenticeship with Port Vale where I spent more time cleaning toilets and boots than playing football. Of course it was worth it for me as, up to now, I have enjoyed a career as a professional footballer.
However I often think of the unlucky lads who spent two years doing these jobs with me but never got the chance. Certainly they believed in their heads they were good enough.
The sad truth is we were cheaper than cleaners. When you see the unbelievable lengths people will go to make it in football, Guardiola’s decision is all the more difficult to understand.
But I realise now that he is a man first and a football manager second. That is what I have learnt more than ever in recent years. Do you need the hassle of coming home every week stressed because you lost or played badly or sitting up at night worrying over contracts or moves?
Of course in today’s climate I realise people need to play for money to pay mortgages etc. Also I know people play because they love playing. But when the love goes out of it or your simply burnt out and your still doing it, like Guardiola, maybe you need to have balls and say I need a break.
I often regret some of my moves in the league of Ireland. When I left Tranmere Rovers I was burnt out following years of back and forth between England and Ireland. So when Dundalk came in for me, instead of taking a break, I jumped back into a club that was in a mess; my performances were terrible and I felt I left not only myself but the Dundalk fans down. After three months I told the manger I wanted to leave. I could easily have sat there and picked up wages which the club could not afford but I thought this is not helping anyone. I decided to leave.
But my biggest learning curve was when I returned to Cork City Foras for the last time. I did it with dreams of bringing back the good times to Cork City and aspirations of hearing ‘the Shed’ singing my name again. But when I sat in the changing rooms all my team mates like Gamble, Murray, O'Flynn, Doyle and so on were gone and what was left was a bunch of young lads starting out like I had ten years previously.
It soon became clear the best thing I could do was take the abuse from fans, protecting the younger lads in the squad. I just felt like a circus clown the whole time I was there. When that season ended the feeling of relief I had was incomparable.
Now, older and wiser, I can sit back and enjoy my life with my wife and kids as I try to tell people that football isn’t my life anymore. People shake their head at me in disbelief. They don’t understand.
This is why I look up to Guardiola. He is a role model not only as a football man but, more importantly, a man that knows when enough is enough.