Could Guardiola really follow Fergie?

Josep Guardiola is being linked with the job at Manchester United, which may be up for grabs at the end of this year or next. The contractual chicanery between him and Joan Laporta suggests he could well have designs on a position elsewhere, and in the very least, Guardiola has evinced an unwillingness to commit longterm to the Catalan giants. It’s rumoured he favours a move to England and the Premiership – a league he is reportedly a fan of.

The prospective manager of Manchester United must have a CV that glitters when presented: success, medals, and a proud record of nurturing talent and managing superstar ego’s borne out of an instinct for man-management. He must be a cynosure – a self-styled deity with a cult of personality to boot. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the manager must have not only a proclivity towards, but a track record of, stylish football.

The importance of flair football for a club with the traditions of Manchester United, is such that a cold blooded result getter in the manner of Jose Mourinho will likely be rejected. Which is not really fair, Mourinho’s pedigree is fantastic; he hasn’t lost a home game with any club since 2003, and – bar the odd exception – nearly every player who has played under him has spoken of him in reverential tones.

Also, his teams aren’t actually as boring to watch as the media make out. Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan have all had high-scoring games and produced resounding results. Chelsea played with flying wingers and Deco was the Orchestrator par excellence at Porto. And if it’s media heat the club are worried about, is he really liable to make more of a fuss than Fergie? Ferguson, like Arsene Wenger, has actually got more crotchety and bad at losing as he has aged, rather than sanguine and wise. And he is just as likely to put himself in the spotlight to divert attention from his team.

In Wenger’s case, the touchline explosions, bust-ups and acerbic comments are a far cry from his early days when he was known as the ice-cold professor and calculating commander, which may reflect the increasing difficulty of the Premier League.

In contrast, Josep Guardiola is quiet and humble, yet just as resolute and ambitious as the aforementioned. He is like the Gary Cooper of football managers – strong and silent. He has the touchline panache of Jose Mourinho; all short hair, stubble and world class suits, and equally, has youth on his side. Which would bode well for the inception of a new dynasty at Old Trafford. And of course, the Barcelona players and fans love him.

On paper then, it would seem that he is the perfect fit, but there is a caveat: Guardiola did not build that Barcelona side from scratch. In fact, save for expelling Ronaldinho, there wasn’t a great deal he had to do to turn an excellent but flawed side, into a great one. Frank Rijkaard must take original credit for transforming Barcelona from a team who weren’t playing in the Champions League in 2003/04 to winning it in 2005/06. And the spine of that side was very much intact when Guardiola took over.

Of course, he deserves credit for getting the best out of Thierry Henry and deciding to stick with him, when he was sporadic at best, in his first year at the club. He signed Gerard Pique, which was a fantastic bit of business, and most importantly, and revolutionary, he insisted that the Barcelona’s players close down their opposition with the pace and intensity of an English side. But it cannot be ignored that he inheritied a team filled with fantastic players.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are such monumental figures in football because of their longevity. A central factor of which, has been their ability to rip up a side and start again from scratch – to destroy and rebuild for success. Mourinho, even though he inherited an excellent side from Claudio Ranieiri, did this at Porto, and to some extent has at Inter Milan. But Guardiola is untested in this realm, and depending on the timeframe, its possible that the next Manchester United manager will need to rebuild.

There is a manager who has a proven track record of success – albeit a large part in Scotland – who has the personality, the motivational skills, is relatively young and hungry, likes his teams to play attacking, enterprising forward play, and who has completely rebuilt a team in 2 and a half years, that manager is Martin O’Neill. Most Villa fans will be quivering with fear at the thought of him being poached when the time comes, as it is certain that he would leave to take a job at Old Trafford should one be offered – after all, Martin O’Neill is mad, but he’s not that mad. Although, playing devil’s advocate for a second, Villa don’t really play possession based football in the manner of Man United.

It may well be that Guardiola has it all in his locker too – the way he has taken to management so far in terms of players signed, players developed, and adapting and incorporating footballs evolution into the style of his team, suggests that he has proven much. And the way he jettisoned Samuel Etoo for Zlatan Ibrahimovic was bold and interesting, but we shall see if it yields success; It has already lowered their goal tally.

Until he rebuilds a side from scratch, and it is shaped entirely in his own image, he would still represent a slight gamble for Manchester United, and given his reluctance to sign a long-term deal at Barcelona, may turn up somewhere else in England first – a blank cheque at Man City would perhaps give him the platform to prove any doubters wrong.

The contrast principle holds that whoever replaces Sir Alex Ferguson will come off badly in the short-term, and politically, it might make sense for Manchester United to appoint a dud; an interim manager who handles the reigns for a while before the club appoints someone forward-thinking and stellar, but in reality, the nature of competition in England and in Europe, and the potential backlash from fans at the boards inability to source an immediate replacement, might make this course of action impossible. They’re just going to have to find someone big enough the job. I wonder who Fergie thinks is up to it.

Here’s my prediction in 3 years time – Jose Mourinho at Liverpool, Carol Ancelotti at Chelsea, Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Josep Guardiola at Man City, and Martin O’Neill at Manchester United…

What are yours?

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