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Pep Guardiola: gambling his way to the dugout

For someone on a sabbatical, there is a noisy clamour around Pep Guardiola. The funny thing is, never before has there been this much corporate schmooze for someone who is presently absent from the game.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Pep Guardiola acknowledges the fans  at Camp Nou in what was his last match at Barcelona.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – MAY 05, 2012: Pep Guardiola acknowledges the fans at Camp Nou in what was his last match at Barcelona.

It would be sacrilegious to even doubt Guardiola’s achievements at Barcelona between 2008 and 2012. In what was perhaps the most dominant four-year period of any club side ever, Guardiola amassed a total of 14 trophies. To put that into perspective, it has taken Sir Alex Ferguson 27 years to win 48 trophies with Manchester United.

One can never quite fathom what he could have accomplished had he remained at the helm of his hometown club. But Guardiola was so extremely stressed and burnt-out, not only by his constant need for perfection but also his never ending rivalry with Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho, that by the end of it (and this is common knowledge) he lost all his hair.

Ferguson famously said that his side were ‘given a hiding’ by the Catalans’ ‘passing carousel’ in the two Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011. So impressed was he with the Catalans’ performance, that the fiery Scot has since earmarked Guardiola as a possible candidate to succeed him at Old Trafford.

Having said that and boasting of a CV that speaks for itself, the Spaniard still has his doubters. There are those who believe he may just be a one-trick pony. That, with the likes of Leo Messi, Xavi and Andreas Iniesta running the show at Camp Nou, he was lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

But they seem to forget that every marching band, every stage production, every team for that matter, has its orchestrator. Barca’s youth academy – the La Masia – might be the only one of its kind in the world with its philosophies etched into every aspiring product. And all Guardiola did in his time was to find a way to manipulate that to good effect; to build an all-conquering team.

Assuming that Guardiola was to walk into a bar to play a game of poker, he would have a full house to choose from. In a hand that contains three matching cards of one rank and two matching cards of another rank, Guardiola has Chelsea, Manchester City and Bayern Munich in one tier and the likes of AC Milan, PSG and Arsenal in the other. Not to forget Manchester United. He simply has to make one call to the club board of his choice.

If he does manage to find a job in Italy or England, he is sure to be tested like never before. He obviously won’t inherit a star-studded team with the likes of Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta. And he most definitely won’t have a certain Lionel Messi to call on.

ROME - MAY 27:  Barcelona's Guardiola is  thrown into the air by his players as they celebrate winning the UEFA Champions League Final match against Manchester United at the Stadio Olimpico, in Rome, Italy.

ROME – MAY 27, 2011: Barcelona’s Guardiola is thrown into the air by his players as they celebrate winning the UEFA Champions League against Manchester United at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy.

The reasons behind being linked to the Bundesliga and Serie A are fairly simple. Bayern’s Jupp Heynckes is likely to step down at the end of the season and Milan’s Massimiliano Allegri is walking a tightrope.

The same goes with the Ligue 1; PSG’s Carlo Ancelotti could find himself on the list of the unemployed if he fails to win any silverware with the amount the Qatari owners have invested. But then PSG would also mean dealing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic all over again and that doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

The Premier League and England seem to be Guardiola’s likeliest bets. However, managing Manchester United or Arsenal would mean taking over from living legends and that is never an easy task.

Arsene Wenger’s legacy on beautiful football is what will probably attract Guardiola the most to the Emirates; their fluent, incisive passing reminiscent of the Catalans’ ‘tiki-taka.’

Whilst Ferguson has met up with Guardiola on his visits to New York, it’s no secret that he features on the tiny post-it list – which is probably kept under lock and key – of who should take over the reins once he eventually steps down.

Roman Abramovich’s admiration for him is extremely well documented. The Chelsea owner has teased him with the big bucks time and again, to no avail. Even after Roberto Di Matteo delivered the coveted Champions League trophy, the Stamford Bridge outfit still pursued Guardiola, which is why it took so long for Di Matteo to get a new deal. The appointment of Rafa Benitez as interim-manager however, might just be the Russian’s best bad idea so far.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  Guardiola \ greets Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United ahead of the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. Ferguson's admiration of the Spaniard is no secret.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 28, 2011: Sir Alex Ferguson greets Guardiola ahead of the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley Stadium, in London. His admiration of the Spaniard is no secret.

Just like at Chelsea, Guardiola would have to deal the pressure of immediate success at Manchester City too. The appointments of Ferran Soriano as Chief Executive and Txiki Begiristain as Director of Football, both of whom he worked with during his highly successful stint at Barca, see him constantly linked with the top job at the Etihad. Roberto Mancini has struggled in Europe and with Guardiola having won the Champions League twice it four years; Sheik Mansour might offer him the Italian’s office.

For all you know, he may even return to the dugout at Camp Nou with long-time colleague and friend Tito Vilonava suffering a relapse in his fight with cancer.

But Guardiola is not one to be forced out of his sabbatical. He has been keeping his cards close to his chest and is putting on one hell of a poker face. Still, with so many clubs on offer, the temptation to return to the big time might be hard to resist. Only he knows where he will end up next season.

And even though Guardiola hasn’t witnessed the ill-effects of player power or been in a managerial crisis in his short but eventful career thus far, it’s unlikely he’s going to fold. Not without putting it all in, at least.

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