It’s not even Christmas yet, but it seems that the Premier League’s top clubs are ready to do a bit of summer shopping. Top of the list is Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola, who right now appears more than happy to show a bit of leg and flutter his eyelashes in their general direction.
Despite multiple reports in the Spanish press over the weekend, Guardiola – in a manner that is typical of the man – is giving nothing away.
On the BT Sport European Football Show on Sunday night, Rafael Honigstein made the claim that the only person who knows Guardiola’s next move is Pep himself though Bayern, while optimistic he can be convinced to stay, are already working under the assumption that their manager will leave at the end of the season.
The noises coming from the Bayern camp suggest that a decision will be made one way or the other before the Bundesliga winter break, but losing the manager would not necessarily be a disaster, as chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge explained recently:
“No-one in the world is irreplaceable at a given time. Players come and go. That also goes for coaches.”
Assuming Guardiola does depart next summer (though it must be stressed he may still decide to stay on), it appears likely that England will be his next destination. The only realistic options outside the Premier League would be Real Madrid or PSG, possibly Juventus, but for varying reasons it’s unlikely that Pep would consider their overtures should those clubs come calling.
It could therefore be a straight shootout between the Manchester clubs for the services of the decorated Spanish manager to take the reins.
Several English reports, and again most of this is just speculating, suggested that as a traditionalist, Guardiola would prefer to move to Old Trafford (as historically United have been the bigger club). That’s not to suggest he wouldn’t be open to a move to Man City, but if he does have a strict set of criteria based on tradition he might take a bit more persuading.
If that is the attitude Pep has though, he might be looking at it in the wrong way. That same lack of relative history is exactly why he should take the Man City position.
Being the Manchester United manager is hard work, and will be for some time. The spectre of the Sir Alex Ferguson era will continue to linger around Old Trafford, and for the next few years at least any manager in place will be compared to the former boss.
David Moyes drew the harshest criticism because he was the man who directly followed the legend, but even a massive figure in his own right like Louis van Gaal can’t escape the unfavourable comparison.
Van Gaal’s style of play at United has been lambasted with alarming regularity, with former players such as Paul Scholes and Gary Neville taking turns at sticking the boot in, in a sort of “back in my day” harking back to the old days.
Having been ridiculously successful at United, Neville and Scholes feel suitably deserving of their opinion being listened to. The problem though is that they have gone slightly overboard and has sent van Gaal on the defensive, which just leads to more problems and divided loyalties amongst the fanbase.
In fact it hasn’t even left the realm of idle speculation, and yet Peter Schmeichel has already decried Guardiola’s preferred playing style in comparison to how he feels Man United should play (i.e. the Ferguson way). How is any manager supposed to operate with Ferguson’s old guard constantly breathing down his neck, ready to criticise him at any given opportunity?
Now, and this was a point picked up on by the Second Captains podcast on Monday, compare that to Manchester City.
At the Etihad, Guardiola wouldn’t have that problem.
Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini are respected for their achievements by the fans and former players but those at the club are not dogmatically hooked on any one manager or style of play in such a way that is still prevalent at United – not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the players responsible for their recent league successes are still there, not writing newspaper columns or appearing as television pundits from the outside looking in.
Basically, he would have the freedom to come in and do whatever he wants with the team.
To that end, there is a vacuum at the club, a space on the mantle for a massive manager to complete that transformation from wealthy club punching above their weight in Europe to bona fide giant deserving of their place at the top table.
If he was to go to Manchester City and win them a first Champions League trophy, City have the type of fanbase that, having been through some horribly bleak days – not to mention several relegations – in the past twenty years, would be eternally grateful. Despite their recent success and untold riches, it has not spoiled them. In fact it might take a manager like Guardiola to convince them of how big they could actually become.
Ultimately it comes down to this – does Guardiola want to try to emulate a legacy or to create one? Does he want to follow Ferguson or transform a club in his own image like he did at Barcelona?
History is there to be created. The romantic in him might decide to opt for United, but the visionary in him must surely see the potential yet to be unlocked at the Etihad.