When it was revealed in early 2012 that Pep Guardiola would leave European champions Barcelona, Roman Abramovic wasn’t coy in showing his admiration for the Catalan.
The Chelsea owner had placed Roberto Di Matteo in caretaker charge – following the sacking of Andre Villas Boas – but with hopes of Pep assuming a permanent role in the summer.
According to Guillem Balague’s biography of Pep, Another Way of Winning, the Russian billionaire invited the sought-after manager for a meeting on his yacht to discuss the possibility of taking the helm at Stamford Bridge.
Guardiola never accepted the offer, reluctant over the erratic gavel Abramovic wielded as owner. If Pep was to commit his services to another club, he needed the reassurances of control and patience; qualities he didn’t feel Chelsea offered.
Insistent on having a break to recover from the stresses being the manager of a politically-volatile club like Barcelona brings, Pep took a sabbatical before announcing in January 2013 that he would take the reins at Bayern Munich that June, signing a three-year contract.
Roman’s target was out of sight, but the return of Jose Mourinho that summer spared Abramovic’s blushes.
Guardiola’s choice to join Bayern, amid offers from several other top European clubs, lent not only on their promise to have patience during his tenure, however.
As Marti Perarnau, author of Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich, put it, “Guardiola has always felt a deep admiration, almost veneration, for the legendary teams of Europe.” As such, Chelsea didn’t have the historical allure Pep seeks in a club.
Yet now, three years on from Abramovic’s initial attempt, Pep is once again being linked with the Chelsea job.
In light of Mourinho’s sacking, it is expected that an interim boss will assume position at Stamford Bridge until the end of the season, when a long-term manager will be signed. As Jose parted on the same day that reports in Germany revealed Guardiola will leave Bayern next May, two and two have been put together.
But in sacking Mourinho after an albeit dreadful start to the season, this furthers Pep’s hesitancy over the time and faith Chelsea pledges in its managers. The vacancy will not expand his pupils, as many have suggested, but rather enhance his anxiety.
It is far more likely the Bayern manager’s arm will be twisted up north, in Manchester.
Despite the current Manchester United squad lacking the technical ability typical of Guardiola’s teams, the Catalan said on a trip to Old Trafford as Barcelona coach in 2011: “I like this atmosphere. I could see myself coaching here one day.”
Meanwhile at the Etihad Stadium, there lies a feeling of optimism in pursuing Pep. Director of football Txiki Begiristain functioned in the same role at Barcelona alongside Guardiola, while Manuel Pellegrini’s contract just so happens to end next summer, so timing is on their side.
When last missing out on Guardiola, Abramovic got Mourinho to spare his blushes. It will be far more difficult on this occasion for Roman to ride his yacht into the sunset.