Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola shocked the world when it was revealed that he would be succeeding the retiring Jupp Heynckes as Bayern Munich boss at the end of the season, signing a three-year deal in the process in what was widely seen as a snub to the Premier League, but should this be taken as little more than a tacit acknowledgement that the one job he wants above all others here in England isn’t available yet, the manager’s position at Manchester United?
Just a day after his soothing words via a pre-recorded video message to the FA during their 150th celebrations (Olly Murs, why?) about his ambition to one day manage in the top flight were taken as proof that the 42-year-old was bound for England in the summer after the conclusion of his year-long sabbatical in New York, the worst gap year ever was finally over and Guardiola had chosen the unexpected but entirely logical step of Bayern Munich, the current Bundesliga leaders and an established giant of the European game.
The reasons were very simple – the footballing ‘philosophy’ at the club was fairly similar, they are widely respected as one of the best run clubs in the world and they always compete for major honours. They ticked every box. There was no mad, trigger-happy, clueless owner to worry about, with the board and executive positions at the club stocked to the brim with ageing, decorated former Germany stars. Bayern is a club that understands the game and most importantly, they have a tradition and history that Guardiola finds attractive, a quality which the likes of nouveau rich Manchester City and Chelsea simply couldn’t compete with.
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It was City’s recent moves in particular that made it appear as if a concerted effort was being made to prepare the ground for the Spaniard’s arrival after bringing in former Barcelona chums Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano as CEO and Director of Football, and all joking aside, Roberto Mancini must have breathed in a huge sigh of relief at the announcement earlier this month.
In all honesty, Guardiola is so highly sought-after, or least he was, that he could have walked into pretty much any job he so pleased across the entire continent – Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and even Arsenal would surely have jacked in their qualified men at the helm if they had the slightest inclination that he wanted to become their next boss. Every job except the one at Old Trafford.
He may have been repeatedly linked with replacing Ferguson at the helm, but was that ever really a likely move? The 71-year-old commands unparalleled control at his club that perhaps only the increasingly under pressure (from the fans anyway, not the board) Arsene Wenger enjoys at Arsenal. He is likely to have a large say in who eventually replaces him, he will not be ushered out of the back door or upstairs quietly and with Guardiola signing a three-year deal at Bayern, the timing works out reasonably well.
There looks set to be something of a managerial merry-go-round over the course of the next year or so involving Jurgen Klopp, Joachim Low, Roberto Mancini, Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho. Where will they all land? That’s anyone’s guess, but Guardiola has removed himself from the equation now and that’s very telling.
Ferguson most certainly wants at least one more triumph in Europe before he leaves, while the three years Guardiola will spend in Germany will make the Scot 74 years of age, surely, even by his staggering standards, coming up on retirement age. The deal on closer inspection also allows a degree of leniency on Guardiola’s part too, given that he was mentally fatigued after coaching the Barcelona B-team for one year and the first team for four.
What was most revealing after the move was made public was when Owen Hargreaves mused about Guardiola’s next step on BBC Radio 5Live: “There aren’t many clubs within European football that have the stability and structure that Bayern Munich has in place.
“People look at the glamour of the Premier League and its global appeal but I think he probably saw the structure in place at the club, the success of the club and quality of the players. And the facilities and the stadiums are better than anywhere in the world, I would guess.
“I think he’s probably looked at all aspects and, in my opinion rightfully so, thought that’s the best destination for him. I think it is a smart move from Guardiola. They are the Manchester United of Germany.”
That final line is what appears to have swung it Guardiola’s way in favour of perennial candidate for the job, Jose Mourinho – his record of youth development and his more attacking, attractive style of play will please the terraces more than the Portuguese manager, while the structure in place isn’t one conducive to the sort of fractious chaos that the Real Madrid manager brings with him, rather a steady, guiding hand to help shepherd an already talented bunch of players.
Predicting moves of this nature is always difficult, fraught with assumptions, and Guardiola’s unexpected move to Germany has thrown a spanner in the works for Chelsea and to a lesser extent Manchester City, but given that all the other likely rivals for the position at Old Trafford will likely be managing somewhere else by 2016, the Spaniard is once again the front-runner to replace Ferguson; a daunting task if ever there was one, but just so long as he is able to replicate a modicum of his success with Barcelona at Bayern, the job looks his to lose.