Friday December 18th, 2015

Editor's note: Bayern Munich has officially announced that Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season, to be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti.

With one major European coaching domino already fallen, it appears the next is in line to follow suit. The seeming certainty that Pep Guardiola is to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season has ramifications that reach well beyond Munich and will affect at least three Premier League clubs.

With neither Manchester City nor Manchester United entirely happy with the present incumbent and Chelsea having ushered Jose Mourinho out the door on Thursday, the diplomatic maneuverings will be frenzied, but at the moment City looks like Guardiola's most likely destination.

It would be no great surprise should Guardiola, who said Friday he has made up his mind, elect to leave once his contract expires this summer. Guardiola is an intense, restless soul, a man who seems constantly to need new challenges; it may even be that his players need a break from him after three seasons. Great Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann observed that “the third season is fatal” and that was how it felt for Guardiola at Barcelona, where his side looked jaded and uninspired in his fourth season, the only one in which he did not win the league.

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Bayern this season has at times produced football of extraordinary quality, but equally there have been rumblings from within the club that while Guardiola is driven and a perfectionist, that makes him an exhausting man with whom to work.

Best, perhaps, to clarify now that he is going, to make the break clear, rather than risk staleness setting in amid trophy chases on multiple fronts.

The alternative view is that for a manager to announce he is going leaves him as a lame duck: why would players listen to him if he’ll be gone in May? Even Sir Alex Ferguson fell pray to that at Manchester United in 2001-02 before reversing his decision. It doesn’t always work that way, though. It was known long before the end of the season that Guardiola’s predecessor, Jupp Heynckes, would be going and he inspired his side to the treble. It may be that the Champions League has taken on the nature of a quest for Bayern to such an extent that there will be no slackening.

Carlo Ancelotti has emerged as the early favorite to replace him, and it’s not insignificant in that regard that Ancelotti's record in the Champions League is rather better than his record in the league. He is one of only two men to have won the Champions League or European Cup three times, but he has only won four league titles in his career, a remarkably poor return for somebody who has managed Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid over the course of 16 years.

The Champions League must now be the target for Guardiola. He has two Bundesliga titles already, and Bayern, having dropped only five points this season, is five points clear of its nearest challenger, Borussia Dortmund. After successive semifinal exits in the Champions League, though, there is a need for European success if it is not to feel that his reign fell just short of fulfillment. In both the past two years Bayern has wrapped up the league title early and then found its form faltering without the edge of true competition.

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That, too, may perhaps shape Guardiola’s decision: the Bayern job, partly because he has been so successful at it, only really comes alive once the Champions League reaches the quarterfinal. Everything before that is warm-up, and that must be a frustration.

Mourinho’s jibe at the end of last season that even the kitman could win the league in some countries had the sting of truth.

Guardiola’s plans, however, remain unclear. It may be that he chooses to take another sabbatical as he did after leaving Barcelona, although it’s sure that Premier League clubs will try to ensure he does not. City must be the favorite. Guardiola has long been linked with City, partly because CEO Ferran Soriano and sporting director Txiki Begiristain worked with him at Barcelona. They have tried to set City up as a club that follows the Barcelona model, with a “holistic” approach that should ensure a steady funnel of players from a well-resourced academy to the first team.

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When Manuel Pellegrini was given a new contract it was widely assumed he was keeping the seat warm until Guardiola’s availability in summer 2016 became clear, and City’s form this season hasn’t been consistent enough to alter that view. After Guardiola rejected £280,000 a week to stay at Bayern, there are reports of him being offered a £15 million annual salary, more than what Mourinho was making at Chelsea as the highest paid Premier League manager.

But Guardiola has said in the past that the thought of managing Manchester United attracts him, and he would certainly find a large budget there for players. Louis van Gaal’s football hasn’t excited and poor recent results have created mumbles of dissatisfaction. The club briefed last week that it was happy with van Gaal, which has been widely interpreted as an admission of defeat in the race for Guardiola. With Mourinho now available, perhaps United could look in his direction, too.

And then there’s Chelsea. Defeat to Leicester on Monday was the final chapter in the story of Mourinho's dismissal, and it would be bizarre if Roman Abramovich hadn’t at least considered offering Guardiola the job, even if that means an interim coach arriving in the short term. He reportedly told his players Friday that Guus Hiddink would be taking the reins for the remainder of the season, as he did in February, 2009.

In terms of the environment in which Guardiola would work, and his capacity to mold a club that remains relatively inexperienced at the very highest level, City looks like the best fit, and that has been a constant throughout Guardiola’s career–he has to be able to do it his way. Neither United nor Chelsea would offer that freedom.

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