Pep Guardiola is the most in-demand coach in football, even though the former Barca coach has made it clear that he won't return to work any time before next year. In England, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have all been regularly linked with an attempt to convince the Catalan to come out of his New York exile, but which club is likely to be successful? There is a clear favourite. Read on to find out more...
Manchester City are the side that appear to be most keen on courting Guardiola, having brought in former Barcelona vice-president Ferran Soriano as chief executive, a well as Pep's former director of football and friend Txiki Begiristain. Yet filling the club with various names associated with Barcelona's past glories doesn't guarantee Guardiola will head to the Etihad, too. After all, laying the foundations doesn't necessarily mean you'll end up with the Sagrada Familia. Guardiola, a man who has shown inimitable foresight throughout his career as a coach, will be more than aware than that, and the City job is one which shares few similarities with his last role.
The City project is one that is hard to reconcile with Guardiola's passions as a coach. Would the man who was allowed to drop the established Yaya Toure for a then relative unknown Sergio Busquets really be attracted by a club that lets a talent like Denis Suarez languish in their reserves? Then there's the somewhat overlooked spectre of Guardiola's big-money signings under the same Txiki Begiristain at Barcelona. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dmytro Chygrynsky, whose combined overall transfer fees were estimated to be somewhere in the region of £75m, are not names that roll off the tongues of Barcelona supporters when you quiz them on successful signings. With City's economic model unlikely to change in the near future, would Guardiola really want to be involved in a partnership with Begiristain once again when they're likely to be asked to spend big in an attempt to bring quick European success? Their brief flirtation with doing so at Barcelona suggests it wasn't their forté.
At the other extreme lie Arsenal, who would likely put major constraints on the coach regarding potential transfers. If the average punter can see the clear weaknesses throughout the spine of Arsenal's team, then a coach of Guardiola's vision and success will find it blindingly obvious. In an effort to alleviate those problems, he would likely be given the unpalatable choice between scraping around the bottom of the barrel for small change to bring in one or two sub-par players or, to look to the academy for a solution. Arsenal's youth system has its merits, but to compare it to the one which produced a golden generation of winning talent at both club and national level as Barcelona's is fanciful.
Then there's the ambition, or rather, lack thereof at the Emirates. Would Guardiola, a man who deemed winning six trophies in one season so important that it visibly accelerated his ageing process really be content with coaching a side whose sole goal seems to be financial gain through Champions League qualification? Unless there's a dramatic change of tune behind the scenes, it's hard to reconcile Guardiola's endless drive for success with Arsenal's endless drive for profit at this moment in time.
That drive for success is certainly something Chelsea don't lack, but Roman Abramovich's cut-throat, win-at-all-costs mentality is a far cry from Guardiola's belief in victory through long-term commitment to a philosophy. The Russian oligarch may have an attractive array of young, attacking talent seemingly primed and ready to conquer Europe under Pep's tutelage, but attempting to rebuild Chelsea in the Barcelona image as Abramovich desires isn't something that will arrive overnight and Abramovich is hardly famed for his long-term strategy at Stamford Bridge. Considering this is the same person who sacked Carlo Ancelotti, a European Cup-winning coach and player, not to mention double-winner at Chelsea, with little regard for the Italian's pedigree, Guardiola would be right to err on the side of caution.
Which brings us to the biggest job of them all. Is there a greater challenge in football than succeeding the probably unmatchable dynasty that Sir Alex Ferguson has built at Manchester United? Guardiola made a habit of breaking records at Barcelona, but the task of following Fergie is a challenge that could potentially mark him out as the greatest manager of all-time.
Pep is a known admirer of the Scot, as evidenced in his public declaration that he would "try and learn" from Ferguson ahead of one of United's ties with Barcelona. Guardiola even went as far as saying that it was a "privilege" to be competing against Ferguson's United in the 2009 Champions League final, so it isn't a leap of faith to suggest that there are similarities between the philosophies of the two coaches. Like Barcelona, United have built their success on combining top quality signings with a brilliant youth set-up, finding the right balance between youth and experience to continue competing at the highest level, year-in, year-out. Pep would find a familiar environment at Old Trafford to the one he left at the Nou Camp, but would also be able to set new goals, most notably to amend United's lack of regular European silverware.
Then there's the personnel available to the coach. In Nemanja Vidic, Guardiola would have his Carles Puyol, a leader figure at the heart of defence who lifts a team with his mere presence. Wayne Rooney - who recently admitted that he studies videos of Xavi in an effort to continue to develop his game as a more withdrawn playmaker figure - is also a mind ripe for Guardiola's influence. The Catalan, a fan in his own right of using technology in order to self-improve, would no doubt be attracted by Rooney's desire to implement elements of the Barcelona playmaker's game into his own style. Most obviously, Robin van Persie's Dutch schooling should mean he's well placed to adapt to Guardiola's heavily Cruyff-influenced style, while in general terms the squad has the right balance of promising youth and experienced players to successfully put his methods into practice. Perhaps the only obvious downside in terms of the players available would be that Guardiola couldn't call on Paul Scholes in the long term. If ever there was a United player that suits Guardiola's approach to football, it's the former England international, but perhaps he could be persuaded to join the coaching staff.
Of course, any suggestion that Guardiola will take the United job relies on it being available in the first place. Publicly at least, Sir Alex has given no indication that he intends to draw a close to his time as United coach at the end of the season, though it's impossible to know whether that is down to a determination to continue into the future, or rather the Scot's desire to keep his cards close to his chest. Time will tell.
What is clear is that, among the four English sides likely to try and tempt him, United are the one team who not only appeal to Guardiola the realist, but Guardiola the romantic. At Old Trafford, Guardiola would be guaranteed a side with the ambition and drive to continue to compete for the titles, while at the same time offering the personal challenge of following on from a coach he deeply admires. On a more romantic level, at United, Guardiola would be part of a bigger project that reaches far into the past and will continue long after his departure. That should strike a clear note with Guardiola, who is strong in his opinion that it's not only important to play attractive, winning football, but to use the right methods in order to achieve that.
Do you agree? Are Manchester United the most likely club to tempt Pep Guardiola? Comment below and have your say...