The confirmation that Pep Guardiola is to leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season will heighten intrigue over the sought-after former Barcelona coach’s next move.
Here, we assess how the 44-year-old could look to spend the next phase of his illustrious career – from the widely touted options to some outside bets.
Long viewed as Guardiola’s most likely next destination, due in no small part to the presence of ex-Barcelona men Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano on the City board. Chief executive Soriano and, in particular, director of football Begiristain enjoy established personal relationships with Guardiola, while the City Football Academy base that the club opened last year makes a generous nod towards Barca’s feted Masia production line where Guardiola cut his teeth.
A splendid array of attacking talents, plus the prospect of a hefty transfer budget are factors likely to appeal to Guardiola, while suspicions remain that current boss Manuel Pellegrini has embroiled a lavishly gifted squad in a scrap for the Premier League title they should be coasting towards this season.
Nevertheless, despite patchy form, City remain favourites to win a league title Pellegrini collected at the first time of asking in 2013-14. Should they also build on a League Cup semi-final place and a favourable last-16 draw against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, the Chilean could give Begiristain and Soriano a difficult decision to make when one year remains on his contract at the end of this season.
The mounting struggles of another man to have coached both Barcelona and Bayern Munich are unlikely to have escaped Guardiola’s attention. Louis van Gaal’s grip on power at Old Trafford has rarely seemed less secure than in the aftermath of Saturday’s dispiriting 2-1 Premier League loss to Norwich City. The normally strident Dutchman conceded that his position could be vulnerable after a sixth game without a win in all competitions.
United supporters dissatisfied by United’s formulaic and unambitious playing style under Van Gaal would certainly be appeased by the arrival of Guardiola, who Alex Ferguson this year revealed was the ideal choice to continue his Old Trafford dynasty before David Moyes embarked upon an error-strewn tenure.
The prospect of stealing a long-time City target from under their neighbours’ noses means a move for Guardiola would further delight the United faithful. Young talents such as Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay would give Guardiola plenty to work with, although the extent to which misses outweigh hits in Van Gaal’s substantial transfer outlay mean an overhaul could be on the cards.
Jose Mourinho paying for Chelsea’s torturous Premier League title defence with his job and the subsequent appointment of Guus Hiddink until the end of the current campaign gives Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich an identical timeframe to Guardiola in plotting his next move.
Mourinho’s more pragmatic approach cut an absorbing contrast with Guardiola’s artistry when the two men were in charge of Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Were Guardiola to take on the Chelsea squad in its current guise, established professionals would be forced to endure a significant change in style.
However, Chelsea are not without their share of artisans and it is difficult to imagine a better man to rejuvenate the ailing fortunes of Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard than Guardiola. The Catalan’s famed rigorous and extensive preparation for matches also draws a rare parallel between himself and Mourinho – two of 21st century football’s most wilfully contrasting figures.
Following his formidable four years in charge of Barcelona – Guardiola’s tiki-taka revolution that changed the face of the modern game – he took a one-year sabbatical.
Given the intensity bordering on obsession with which he plots tactical plans for his team’s every outing, Guardiola might view a similar break after every assignment as a necessary move to prolong his longevity in the game.
He came back from his previous absence teeming with more ideas than ever, tackling his task at Bayern with verve and gusto. It is unlikely that any of Guardiola’s potential suitors would mind waiting another year for a man who would surely not miss a beat during a prospective absence.
Unquestionably a long shot, as Guardiola’s thirst for new challenges has been a key driving force in him being the most desired coach in world football.
But Luis Enrique, who completed Guardiola’s 2009 feat of adding the FIFA Club World Cup to La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles on Sunday, last week suggested he would follow his former team-mates’ example of taking a year off when his time at Barcelona concluded.
If that comes at the end of this season, who better to pick up the reins than a man more steeped in Barcelona’s rich footballing and cultural history than most? Both Barca and Guardiola have developed and refined their impeccable styles since the coach departed the Camp Nou in 2012. It would be fascinating, if highly unlikely, to see them take their next steps in unison once more.