Will Guardiola Ever Step Through The Door Chelsea Left Ajar

posted 30 Nov 2012, 08:35 by Richard Brook   [ updated 27 Feb 2013, 15:12 ]
Originally posted here: bit.ly/TpCnxQ

In controversially appointing Rafa Benitez as successor to Roberto Di Matteo, as Chelsea manager on a six-month basis, owner Roman Abramovich has all but confirmed the worst kept secret in European football: Chelsea would like to appoint Pep Guardiola as manager as soon as possible. It seems safe to assume that for individuals as wealthy as Abramovich, it becomes force of habit to expect to get your own way. However given that the Russian billionaire reportedly failed in attempts to convince Guardiola to end his self imposed sabbatical from football, and that the Brazilian media have suggested the former Barca coach had indicated he would be prepared to end his sporting exile “tomorrow” to become their national coach, there must now be a question mark as to whether Guardiola will ever grant Abramovich’s wish.

Abramovich  is known as a long time admirer of Guardiola’s achievements with the Catalan giants, both in terms of the success achieved by the side and importantly in terms of their trademark tiki taka style of play. Abramovich’s well publicised aim for Chelsea was to win the Champions League. The recently axed Di Matteo famously delivered on this aim last May, defeating Bayern Munich in their own stadium to so. The achievement appeared to be tarnished for Abramovich, by the lack of sophistication with which it was realised.

Di Matteo had taken over a Chelsea side that was reputedly in disarray, with some of the bigger personalities amongst the playing staff apparently dominating attempts to manage them. It was against such a back drop that Andre Villas-Boas saw his reign as Di Matteo’s predecessor reach its uncomfortable ending. The early part of Di Matteo’s reign saw the club create a reputation for themselves as a team that got the required results, but lacked the panache appreciated by the purists, and envied by Abramovich. Even going into the Champions League final there was already speculation as to the security of Di Matteo’s position.

Di Matteo’s charges emerged victorious in Munich, but again they did so by grinding out the necessary result, with as little flair as was possible. Bayern won the shot count 35 to 9 and the corner count 20 to 1, but as we all know there is only one statistic that matters in football. Normal time ended with the score at 1-1, and Robben’s weak penalty miss in extra time sent the game to a shoot-out. A Petr Cech finger-tip kept out Bastian Schweinsteiger with the assistance of the post. Didier Drogba netted his spot-kick, with his final touch in a Chelsea shirt to win the trophy, having saved the match with his late equaliser in normal time.

The manner of the victory was not all that Abramovich might have wanted and despite the fact the Di Matteo had also provided an FA Cup to add to the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, after just six months in charge his reign came to an abrupt, if not entirely unexpected end. The final straw came following the 3-0 to defeat to Juventus in Turin, and once again the manner of the performance must have been high on the agenda for Chelsea’s owner. Chelsea took to the field without a recognised striker after Di Matteo had dropped the out of form Fernando Torres. Resultantly they failed to really trouble the Italian side at any stage and ended up comfortably beaten. Following the match Chelsea were left to rely on other results to avoid becoming the first holders of the Champions League, to exit the subsequent tournament to their victory at the group stage.

This result was preceded by a sticky patch for Chelsea that saw them fail to notch a league win since October 20th, when they beat Tottenham 4-2. In spite of this Chelsea stood third in the Premier League following Di Matteo’s final league game, a defeat to in form West Bromwich Albion.

The concerning truth is that Di Matteo in a six-month tenure, picked up two trophies including fulfilling the owner’s Champions League dream and led the team to third in the league. This is success that most clubs can only dream of, however for Roman Abramovich it appears to have not been enough. Di Matteo’s dismissal reportedly took Chelsea’s spending on sacking managers to £69 million since 2004.

The problem that Abramovich might be creating for himself is that he is not creating an attractive proposition for cream of Europe’s managerial talent including long-term target Guardiola. He has shown time and again that he has a worrying lack of patience when it comes to allowing managers to build and to mould the club towards becoming the side that he wants, and almost certainly that the managers themselves would like the team to become. It remains to be seen whether Abramovich can come up with a package that is tempting enough for the likes of Guardiola to come on board.

Interim manager Rafa Benitez certainly is amongst the top managers in Europe if you look at his track record, rather than the English media-borne perception of his management career. However it is very different working with Abramovich on an interim basis as opposed to a permanent basis. If you are successful in the interim, as Di Matteo himself was, you know you are likely to get a permanent contract at the end of it. If you are unsuccessful and Abramovich looks to replace you, then everyone knows the appointment was an interim one and he was always likely to seek to appoint a different manager in the summer. On an interim basis, being Chelsea manager is only likely to improve your stock.

Guardiola hardly needs to worry about enhancing his reputation. Under his watch Barcelona were renowned as one of the most, if not the most, successful and attractive footballing sides in the world. Guardiola is just 41 years of age and left Barca of his own volition in June, having won 14 titles in 4 years. However as a permanent manager under Abramovich there are far more pitfalls to be negotiated.

While Di Matteo is arguably unproven despite his trophy haul in his brief reign, there was arguably a fair amount of luck involved, especially in the latter stages of the Champions League. The Italian also failed to properly replace Didier Drogba after the goals that saw the club to European triumph proved to be his last in their shirt. Nonetheless there remains a feeling that Di Matteo deserved more time based on his achievements, to impose himself fully on the team. Guardiola himself, won neither the league nor the Champions League last season. Under Abramovich that might be considered form worthy of a managerial change.

So prolific are the management changes at Stamford Bridge that Di Matteo’s short time in the hot seat was enough to say that he out lasted Andre Villas-Boas, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari. If proof were needed that neither achievement or reputation are enough to survive Abramovich’s itchy trigger finger, then it is worth noting that the Russian has now sacked managers that have won the Premier League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the World Cup and the Champions League.

Guardiola himself has a well known long term aim, to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, when the time comes, and his reported interest in potentially ending his sabbatical, which he was apparently unwilling to do for Chelsea, to succeed Mano Menezes as Brazil’s coach. When you add this to Abramovich’s record for not allowing manager’s time to build and demand for instant results, both in terms of success and style, it would seem a perfectly valid question as to why Guardiola might ever want to to join Abramovich at a club. Sources close to Guardiola have been reported in the national press as saying that Guardiola himself, while considering all options, is on the lookout for stability and that he is more impressed with the conduct of both Manchester clubs, in this regard than that of Chelsea. There is always a chance in football that such comments are leverage for a better contract. If taken at face value, however, it is difficult to disagree with the opinions attributed to Guardiola.

In seeking an instant change of playing style to mimic Guardiola’s own, and then seeking to hurriedly install the man himself, Abramovich might just have shot himself in the foot when it comes to ever getting his man at all.