London – Had you delved into the heart of the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport on the day Chelsea were beaten in Turin you would have found a cartoon.
The features were exaggerated but the image was familiar, a smartly-suited and shaven-headed man with stubble, dwarfed by the skyscrapers of New York, studying a signpost.
London, Milan, Munich and Manchester were the options available. Across European football, everyone is asking the same question: Where now for Pep Guardiola, the world’s most wanted coach? Roman Abramovich likes to think he will one day be at Stamford Bridge whereupon he will be expected to recreate the success he enjoyed in Barcelona, turning Chelsea into the world’s finest and most popular team.
He isn’t on his way to Chelsea just yet and he has other options. AC Milan and Bayern Munich are very keen and Manchester City have recently made Txiki Begiristain their director of football. It was Begiristain, when in a similar role at Barcelona, who lured Guardiola back to the club in his first coaching role, in charge of the reserve team.
And if there is one person who might smooth the sensitivities of all sides of Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit from Manchester United, it is probably Guardiola.
As well as the competition, there is another issue with the idea of Guardiola ever taking charge at Stamford Bridge. His incredible success at Barcelona is rooted in his emotional bond with his boyhood club and his understanding of their culture.
His reign started with a team meeting which would pass into legend at the start of a pre-season tour in Scotland, when he summoned the players and mapped out his philosophy.
This was the spiritual birth of Pep’s Barca, the greatest team-talk ever heard to inspire the greatest team ever seen.
Players told of his communication skills – he is inclusive, a teacher rather than a dictator – and his discipline – strict but reasonable – and his attention to detail – he cut down-time spent in hotels in an effort to keep his players relaxed.
Guardiola proved a natural leader, as he was as a player, but this was founded upon his deep love for Barcelona. Whether it can be transplanted at will is questionable. As an intelligent man, he will realise this.
His tactics too were soaked in heritage. Possession is nine tenths of the law where Guardiola is concerned, as it was with Johan Cruyff, architect of Barcelona’s original ‘Dream Team’.
Without him this season, Barca seem to operate with a fraction less control but just as potently, thanks to the Argentine striker recognised as the world’s best footballer. Guardiola created the perfect stage for Lionel Messi to prosper in the ‘False Nine’ position.
Roberto Di Matteo deployed Eden Hazard in this same role against Juventus. It was the first (and last) time Di Matteo tried it and it only strengthened the suspicion that this team is being designed with Guardiola in mind. But there is only one Messi and signing him is impossible.
If Guardiola eventually takes the job at Chelsea, he will have to prove he can create a new team without Messi. Can he export success like Jose Mourinho? And why would anyone who does not need the money want to work for Abramovich?
The Russian once courted Carlo Ancelotti with the same enthusiasm he now devotes to Guardiola, but fired him 12 months after the Italian secured Chelsea’s first league and FA Cup double. Di Matteo became the first to clinch the Champions League, the trophy Abramovich wanted more than anything else. He is now out of work.
It is all about Guardiola not Rafa Benitez. But Guardiola, unlike Abramovich, has options to chew on as he savours his sabbatical in the Big Apple. – Daily Mail