Just under a year ago on this very site, I wrote an article advocating Pep Guardiola as the man to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson when the great man finally decided to hang up his £19.99 Nike trainers. At the time the idea of the uber successful well dressed Catalan leaving the darlings of European football seemed about as likely as Roberto Di Matteo masterminding a victory over them in the Champions League semi-final.
Fast forward eleven months and there’s suddenly a different outlook on the Spanish horizon, as Guardiola embarks on the final weeks of his first unsuccessful season in charge of Barcelona, in his fourth year as manager of the first team. Yes there have been triumphs, World Club Championships and European Super Cups and what have you, but make no mistake, seeing his side crash out of the Champions League only days after Real Madrid all but guaranteed the La Liga title will be back at the Bernabeu, is nothing short of a disaster.
Guardiola isn’t in charge of Tottenham Hotspur, where a good European run and a top two finish would be seen as cause for an open top bus, he’s in charge of a club where even delivering the league can be seen as a something of a disappointment if you’ve not won the Champions league alongside it.
Guardiola’s looked a little out of sorts lately, getting testy with journalists, rumours of player rifts and questions surrounding some of his tactics. He’s gone from the man who could do no wrong to someone who’s perceived as struggling to get anything right in the space of about four days.
Guardiola hasn’t suddenly become a bad manager, he’s just entered a time that happens to all top coaches and teams, the infamous ‘fourth season’ where some players need more motivation, or focus, opposition sides finally work out ways to counteract your tactics and the expectations of the fans and media reach near-ludicrous levels.
There’s been a lot of speculation that Guardiola would leave at the end of this season, helped in no small measure by the rolling one year contract he’s on and his reluctance to commit to anything resembling long-term whenever he’s questioned about his future.
Some have suggested that Guardiola actually wants a bit of time off from football, maybe just a season, to recharge his batteries and spend some time embracing the arts and culture he’s so fond of. Don’t forget this is a manager who loves his Opera and theatre- not spending his spare time playing golf or watching the Red Lion vs the Swinging Sporran on Kingsway Park.
At United however, there’s no sign that this season will be Sir Alex’s last, even if he does win an unprecedented 16th league title as a manager there’s unfinished business in Europe and I’d be surprised if Fergie didn’t want at least one final crack at the Champions league.
There’s also the ‘Noisy Neighbours’- if City do win the title then there’s no way on God’s earth Ferguson will then walk away from the game and if they don’t, then there’s still the aforementioned European adventure to be had- especially after this season’s failings.
This is why Guardiola coming to United next season makes sense to me, not as manager but as Sir Alex’s assistant- sounds crazy? After all why would Guardiola leave Barca to come and be an assistant at Old Trafford? Well think about it for a second, if Guardiola did fancy the United job, what better way to learn about the team, the Premier League and even the country by spending one season on the coaching staff? There’d be no pressure, after all if the team fails it’s not going to be Pep’s fault when Sir Alex is in charge, plus it’d give Guardiola the perfect opportunity to truly assess what he had to work with the following season and where we needed strengthening.
Then there’s the mutual benefits, Sir Alex would have another experienced coach to bounce ideas off, particularly when it came to Europe, an area we’ve not looked as assured in since Carlos Queiroz left. Deep down Sir Alex may realise that at the age of 70, he needs to plan for United’s future and what better way then replacing himself with arguably the best coach on the planet, but also allowing himself one final swansong?
Some people will point to Jose Mourinho as Ferguson’s heir apparent, but I’ve always thought of the Special One as someone who despite his entertaining nature- off the pitch- isn’t quite suited to what United stands for. Yes he’s successful, but he’s completely anti-establishment, a Portuguese modern-day Brian Clough, and I’m not so sure he’d be get on with the board members who’d expect a certain amount of compromise and communication from their new manager. The eye-poking, red card receiving, speak out all the time attitude may not sit well with some of the executives.
I know my idea sounds a tad unrealistic, but then again so did the notion of Leeds selling us Eric Cantona, Keith Gillespie being enough to tempt Kevin Keegan to sell us Andy Cole, or more recently bringing back a 37 year-old to save our title bid.
Guardiola could take United to a new level, move us forward with the modern European style of football his Barca team are the greatest exponents of. Now might be the best time to lure him to Old Trafford as if he does stay at Barca he may not have another unsuccessful season for quite some time and when he leaves, he won’t be short of suitors.
Check out Jonathan Wills’s superb look at the ‘three season cycle’ taken from his Guardian blog on the link below
Have I gone completely potty? Are United better of promoting Mickey Phelan? Is there zero chance of getting Pep as manager let alone coach?
Answers on a brick through the usual window please- or alternatively you can comment, suggest and abuse below: