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By ESPN Staff

Rijkaard to leave Barca, Guardiola to take charge

MADRID, May 8 (Reuters) - Frank Rijkaard will leave Barcelona at the end of the season and former captain Pep Guardiola will take over as coach of the team, club president Joan Laporta announced on Thursday.

Former Netherlands international Rijkaard took charge of Barcelona in 2003 and led them to back-to-back league titles and victory over Arsenal in the Champions League final in Paris in 2006.

However, his side have failed to win any silverware for the past two seasons and suffered a humiliating 4-1 defeat by arch-rivals Real Madrid on Wednesday.

That defeat combined with Villarreal's victory over Recreativo Huelva means the Catalans will miss out on automatic qualification for the Champions League and cannot finish any higher than third in the Primera Liga.

'Frank has been the leader of the team that led us to glory in Paris, but the cycle is finished because the results haven't gone our way in the last two years,' Laporta told a news conference. 'The situation was very disappointing last season.

'We haven't been able to correct the errors that were committed then and we have decided that Frank should be relieved of his post at the end of the season.'

Rijkaard's contract was due to run to 2009.

Laporta, who made it clear that Rijkaard's assistants Johan Neeskens and former player Eusebio would also be leaving the club, said that Guardiola had been the board's unanimous choice as the new coach.

'We believe in Pep Guardiola because he is capable of leading this new sporting project. He is a man who guarantees the continuation of a footballing concept that has led this club to so much success.'

Born in Santpedor to the north of Barcelona, the 37-year-old Guardiola made his name at Barca as a cultured midfielder in the early 1990s when Johan Cruyff was manager.

He quickly established himself as a favourite at the Nou Camp and became one of the key players in Cruyff's so-called 'Dream team' which won four consecutive league titles between 1991 and 1994 and the European Cup in 1992.

He also helped Spain win the gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics and earned 47 caps with the senior national team.

Guardiola left Barcelona in 2001 to join Serie A side Brescia but his career in Italy was disrupted when he tested positive for nandrolone in November of the same year.

He served a four-month ban but strenuously denied any offence and went through the courts to clear his name, finally winning his case last October.

After spells in Qatar and Mexico, Guardiola announced his retirement as a player in Nov. 2006.

He was appointed coach of Barcelona's B side last June and has steered the team to the top of their group in Spain's regionally-based tercera (fourth tier) division.

Laporta said he would give details of Guardiola's contract at the end of the season. He also refused to be drawn on which players would leave the club.