Wherever he ends up at the start of next season, there is no doubt that the shadow of Pep Guardiola currently looms large over the Premier League. Especially within the corridors of power at the Big Four, who last season made it into the Champions League.
The truth is that Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United must all consider not just what the Spaniard would bring to their club. But also the consequences of allowing him to take charge at one of their rivals.
Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich has long made it clear he would love Guardiola at Stamford Bridge. For weeks Manchester City have been regarded favourites to lure the Spaniard, whom they believe can take them to the next level. And there is a theory that even Arsene Wenger sees the former Barcelona boss as his perfect successor. But the giants with the most urgent need for the services of the most sought after manager in world football are surely Manchester United.
Along with a growing number of United fans, who believe that a successor to Louis Van Gaal must be signed up sooner rather than later, I sincerely hope that it is the Spaniard whose next destination is Old Trafford – and not Jose Mourinho, currently the bookies favourite to succeed LVG.
It has been clear for weeks that Van Gaal’s philosophy is alien to the Theatre of Dreams. His safety first approach, which worked at the start of the season, has now been exposed as a flawed strategy that is taking the Reds down a road to nowhere.
As I have previously declared in this column: “The type of football being played under Louis Van Gaal is most certainly not the philosophy of Manchester United Football Club. Especially after spending a quarter of a billion pounds.”
In my opinion, staying loyal to the DNA of Manchester United Football Club makes Guardiola the right man for the Old Trafford hot seat.
As former United skipper Rio Ferdinand eloquently summarises: “It doesn’t matter what club you’re at. If someone of the talent of Guardiola becomes available, everyone is interested.
“The best manager in the world at the moment is definitely Guardiola and, when he becomes available, people are going to be interested, and I think United are no different.
“Guardiola has been in two of the three best leagues in the world and the next progression, naturally, is going to be the Premier League. He’s going to be going to a Premier League team and he won’t be going to another one after that. So you have one chance to get him.
“He’s not going to go to Manchester City then United. He’s not going to go to Chelsea then United. So you’ve got one chance to get the best manager on the planet.”
For United the option is to stay loyal to Van Gaal or pass on Guardiola and look elsewhere.
Guardiola or Mourinho?
Appointing Mourinho, who clearly had ambitions of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson two-and-half years ago whatever his public statements may have been, would be the safe option because he is a master at maximising a squad inside two seasons. But some football purists who demand flair and magic will see Mourinho as a sideways step from the caution of LVG, who abandoned free-flowing football 15 months ago, when a 3-1 lead ended with a 5-3 humiliation at the home of Leicester City.
Ironically, The Foxes – without doubt the Team of 2015 – currently play more like Manchester United than Manchester United do. As former Old Trafford hero Andy Cole says: “It’s like a 4-2-4 system, with the wingers Mahrez and Albrighton constantly on the full back’s toes. Both are direct, getting at their opposite man on every occasion. Mahrez looks a real star, he’s tricky to mark and likes to come back in on his left foot. The goal against Chelsea was sublime. Decent touch, bit of skill and then curls it top-bins!”
But who is more likely to bring beautiful football back to Old Trafford, Mourinho or Guardiola?
The bookmakers currently make Mourinho the favourite. But, as I have personally advocated on previous occasions, Guardiola should be United’s target.
Fascinatingly, Bayern Munich have indicated a statement is imminent about Guardiola’s future, his contract set to expire at the end of the season.
There are those who doubt the ability of Guardiola to work his magic in England’s most competitive league in the world, claiming he was simply taking candy from a baby at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. But that fails to acknowledge the innovative and creative brilliance of a football man who knows how to serve up a winning team that puts real meaning into the romantic notion of the beautiful game.
In his first season in charge at Camp Nou, Guardiola’s team became the first ever Spanish side to win the treble. He then followed that with a record haul of 14 trophies in four seasons, making him the most successful coach in Barcelona’s history.
In his subsequent reign at Bayern Munich, Guardiola is in the final months of the three-year deal he signed in 2013 and has so far failed to deliver the ultimate prize of the Champions League. But he has made the German giants even more dominant than ever domestically.
Last week he chaulked up his 100th win in just 132 matches in charge at the Allianz Arena, seven fewer than it took him at Barcelona. But just as inportantly, Guardiola is a man who wins with style.