17 Jan 2013

Guardiola’s German move exposes Premier League conceit

The shock decision of former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola to sign with Bayern Munich has left a sour taste in the mouth of English club owners. Malcolm Boughen argues that they had it coming.

As a love letter from one birthday boy to another, it seemed that this was a bromance which was ready to be consummated.

In a video message to the Football Association to help it celebrate its 150th anniversary this week, Pep Guardiola, who celebrates his own 42nd birthday on Friday, expressed his lifelong affection for the English game and the Premier League.

“As a player, I couldn’t realise my dream to play there, but I hope in the future I have a challenge to be a coach or a manager there and feel the experience of all the coaches and players that have been there,” he cooed.

(FATV video posted on YouTube to mark the start of the FA’s 150th anniversary celebrations)

“It is unique, to play in that league. I want to feel the supporters, the environment, the media and the style of the players and everything.”

In the boardrooms of Chelsea and Manchester City hearts skipped a beat. In a world where reputations are gained and lost in a moment, Guardiola is the current “special one”.

In his four years as manager of Barcelona, he won 14 titles – including the Champions League at the first time of asking, in 2008, and the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup the following year. By the time he decided to step down in June 2012, the Catalans were generally accepted to be the best club side in world football.

Guardiola went off for a sabbatical in New York and waited – without any great sign of eagerness or apprehension – for club suitors to come to him.

The billionaire owners of England’s richest teams made their plans.

At Chelsea, the Champions League title won under Roberto Di Matteo was not enough for Roman Abramovich.

Like the Queen in Snow White, the Russian oligarch needed to know not only that his team had wealth, power and success but were “the fairest of them all”. He had already made two attempts to lure Guardiola to Stamford Bridge, which would have made him the highest-paid manager in the world. Players had been signed who would suit the artistic coach’s style of play – and when Rafael Benitez came in earlier this season it was as interim manager only, making it clear that the door was still open for next season.

Over at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City had appointed two of Guardiola’s former Barcelona colleagues as chief executive and director of football as an extra temptation. Like Di Matteo at Chelsea, Roberto Mancini is only too well aware that last year’s Premier League title has simply bought him a little more time as City manager until the club’s owners think they’ve found someone better.

But this was the week when the conceit of the rich men who have bought their way to the top of English football was exposed. Guardiola has demonstrated that money is not everything. Yes, he could have been the best-paid manager in world football – but how long would it have been before he was also receiving the biggest-ever pay-off when the fickle football bosses decided there was someone they fancied even more?

In going to Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola is joining a club with a greater history in world football than those he rejected in England. They’ve won the Champions League – and its predecessor, the European Cup – four times. And they’re a club once more on the rise. They’ve played in two Champions League finals in the last three years, have comfortably reached the last 16 of this season’s tournament and are currently nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga – which itself is growing in wealth and influence.

But perhaps one English club will be slightly more relaxed than others over Guardiola’s decision to sign a three-year contract with Bayern – a club that has a record of loyalty to its managers.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who has just turned 71, has been Manchester United’s boss for a record 26 years, but said recently that he had no plans for retirement just yet.

And as Guardiola himself pointed out about coming to England in that video message to the FA: “I am still young – just 41 – so I hope in the future that I could be able to train there and enjoy that.”