Former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola has been earmarked for a permanent position at Chelsea for a number of years now, even before he decided to resign from his job at the Camp Nou and take a one-year sabbatical to recharge his batteries in New York, but will he even want to take over the reigns at Stamford Bridge at all? Is the club’s owner Roman Abramovich simply holding out for something that will never come?
Firstly, aside from the infantile response (Trizia Fiorellino, I’m looking at you) by a widespread portion of the club’s support to the appointment of Rafa Benitez on an interim basis until the end of the season to replace fan favourite Roberto Di Matteo, the transition between the 52-year-old Spaniard to Guardiola looks uncertain at best in terms of style, system and culture. Nevertheless, the former Liverpool boss is an excellent manager who will go a long way to making them more difficult to beat, something which they were in danger of losing under Di Matteo towards the end and he’ll certainly present the club in a better condition, rather than an exciting, but fragile mess.
Sacking Di Matteo just six months after he’d won the Champions League and FA Cup is patently ridiculous, but he was still only ever a caretaker manager in everything but name. Abramovich’s umming and aaahing for nearly a month over whether to appoint him on a permanent basis after the victory over Bayern Munich only drives home the point that he was waiting for someone else first – Guardiola.
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The club are now on their tenth boss in nine years since Abramovich purchased the club back in 2003 and the average tenure is just seven and a half months. Any manager that steps through the entrance door at the club is in essence an interim manager. The hurtling shifts between the contrasting managerial styles that have been opted for to take over the reins has paid dividends it has to be said, to the tune of three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and one Champions League triumph. It may have made them a laughing stock around the world, but you can’t deny that it’s been successful. Would the club’s fans really swap their success and the revolving door management policy for that much-vaunted of myths, ‘stability’? I’m not so sure.
The obvious answer to any vacancy for a top club in Europe now is ‘Guardiola’, but are Chelsea and the meticulous 41-year-old a good fit? You sense that by appointing yet another short-term manager in Benitez that Abramovich must have been given some sort of indication that Guardiola will be interested come the end of the season, otherwise it’s an almighty risk, essentially writing off an entire season.
Above all else, Guardiola seems a deep-thinker when it comes to football and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who endured a fractious relationship with him during their time together, even went as far as to label him a ‘philosopher’. Abramovich stuck with Di Matteo, not because he wanted to but because he was forced to, yet his uneasy trigger finger may indicate that this is exactly the sort of club where the former Catalan coach will be not able to lay down the foundations he requires to be a success.
Mourinho, still a legend around the club, is one which deals in short staccato-like spells of glory, never really taking his time to look at the bigger picture. He’s a fantastic manager but at the same time, whenever he’s in town, the circus soon follows. Guardiola, though, cuts an altogether more restrained figure; he cares about youth development, about playing a certain style (one which Abramovich craves above all else) and he will want to be involved in all areas of the club, top to bottom, helping to construct a club in his image from the start, rather than picking up someone else’s ‘project’ halfway through.
He will not accept interference, yet Abramovich is the most interfering owner of all – from essentially buying players that don’t fit the system that the side plays and forcing them on the manager of the time such as Torres and Shevchenko, to reportedly demanding explanations after every game from the head coach and frequent visits to their Cobham training complex. The Russian oligarch always looms large over the club, but if he truly wants Guardiola, negotiating with a man that holds all the cards as he does, he will certainly have to adjust his approach, which is easier said than done.
There has been no proof as of yet that Abramovich has shown the patience required that would even help lure Guardiola to the negotiating table. His year away from football promises to be just that, no more, no less, and with his stock so high, he won’t be short of offers from either England or Italy. Clubs are the ones doing the chasing and they will need to convince him to take the job, with Chelsea’s case being weakened somewhat by yet another untimely sacking mid-season.
Manchester City may represent a more likely destination if Roberto Mancini doesn’t win the title this term, given their struggles in a difficult group in Europe for a second successive season. The club have former Barcelona director Ferran Soriano as their CEO, while Txiki Begiristain has become the new Director of Football – that surely cannot be a coincidence, more a prepping of the groundwork for his inevitable arrival.
They are just as wealthy as Chelsea, but the fact that plans are underway to build a new state-of-the-art training complex, coupled with the fact that Mancini has been at the club three years already points to a team he’ll be allowed more time to build. The owners are well-known for being demanding but very hands-off in terms of the decision-making involved to do with the direction of the club and it all just serves to make it seem a much more suitable destination for Guardiola should he decide to come to England. It feels like a deliberate attempt has been made to make him feel like that he fits in at the Etihad Stadium, and for a man famously steadfast in his convictions, that could make all the difference.
Manchester United would be tailor-made for his style and ability as a coach, but with Sir Alex Ferguson unlikely to retire this season or even next, unless Guardiola fancies extending his sabbatical indefinitely, the timing won’t be right for either him or the club to take over the daunting task of succeeding the 70-year-old Scot.
This quote from Barcelona’s arch technician Xavi goes a long way to explaining quite why Chelsea and Guardiola may not be a match made in heaven: “Pep is a perfectionist. If he wanted to be a musician, he would be a great musician.” With Abramovich still reigning supreme at Stamford Bridge, just so long as he is there, the man who orchestrated Barcelona’s domination will prove to be little more than an elusive dream.