The January transfer window has proved so dull that attention has already moved to the biggest signing available in the summer: Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona coach is enjoying a sabbatical in New York this season, but has confirmed that he will return to coaching in the summer. Speaking at the FIFA Ballon d'Or awards in Zurich on Monday, Guardiola said he had not chosen a club but that he wants to be back in management by August. He would be welcomed by some of the biggest clubs in Europe and by the greatest football nation of them all.
Predicting Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement date is about as about as wise as taking a lead against his team. Ferguson doesn't seem to know when he will step down and he even managed to fool himself into thinking he would leave back in 2002. If the United manager could retrieve the Premier League title from Manchester City and leave his young squad in safe hands, he could be tempted to begin his retirement. Ferguson is friendly with José Mourinho, who will be available in the summer, but Mourinho's abrasive manner and tendency to buy players rather than develop them makes him an unpopular choice with some senior United figures. Guardiola, who has met with Ferguson in New York while on his sabbatical, would be favoured by Bobby Charlton and those United fans who see Ferguson's work as a continuation of the job done by Sir Matt Busby. Ferguson's lust for more trophies and the Glazer family's costly and unpopular stewardship of the club could prove obstacles.
Roberto Mancini is Manchester City's most successful manager in the modern era, but questions remain about his style of coaching and his results. Mancini is yet to crack Europe, despite the colossal amount of money the City owners have spent on his team. He has a tendency to fall out with his players and was considering other jobs not long ago. City have appointed former Barcelona executives Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano in what could be interpreted as a bid to lure Guardiola to Manchester. City's unlimited budget might also be tempting.
Roman Abramovich has never given an interview in England but his love of Guardiola is well known. The Chelsea overlord has made several attempts to recruit Guardiola and his reluctance to offer Rafa Benítez a long-term contract suggests that he wants to bring in a new manager in the summer. Guardiola is very much his own man and would be wary of Abramovich's tinkering with transfers and team matters, but if any manager could hold back Abramovich it would be Guardiola. The Chelsea owner has a group of young, promising players that would excite the Spaniard and there are transfer funds to burn if he wants to bring in more talent.
Arsenal fans seem to think that by paying for the most expensive season tickets in the country, they deserve to see the best football. At the minute they have one of the greatest managers in English football history, but the trust they have for Arsène Wenger is fading with each trophyless year. Arsenal's reputation as the passing team of our age is based on a side that Wenger built years ago and the manager looks increasingly isolated and beleaguered on the touchline. Perhaps a separation could be best for both club and coach. Wenger still has two seasons to run on his current deal and has always been adamant about seeing out his contract. Wenger has revolutionized the club and will be appreciated more when he has gone, but if any manager could build on his team, develop their style and win some silverware, it is Guardiola.
The bookies expect Guardiola to end up at Bayern Munich. When asked about the possibility of taking over at the club at the Ballon d'Or award ceremony on Monday, Guardiola said: "They have Jupp Heynckes and it would be a lack of respect to talk to a club that has a coach." Heynckes turns 68 in May and has hinted that he will leave Bayern in the summer when his contract expires. Guardiola's brother Pere has reportedly met with the club to discuss a potential move. Bayern would meet Guardiola's financial demands and he would take over a well-run club that is capable of winning the Champions League. He could be put off by the potentially meddlesome trio of Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
The Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi has tried to lure Guardiola to San Siro before and will continue his pursuit in the summer. With no lack of arrogance Berlusconi made the case for his club: "Guardiola said that at Milan he'd have fun and he felt admiration towards me, and appreciation for Lake Como, where I could offer a beautiful villa." The owner went on to admit that "the percentage for him to come to Milan is very low", but Guardiola is known to be fond of Italy. He enjoyed his spell playing for Brescia and former Barcelona president Joan Laporta says Guardiola "loves Italy and would get along with Silvio Berlusconi ... When we travelled with the team, Pep would only read the Italian newspapers." Berlusconi would have few concerns about sacking his current manager, Massimiliano Allegri: "Will Allegri stay at Milan next season? I have to say the truth? Please, ask me another question."
Paris Saint-Germain recovered from a slow start under Carlo Ancelotti this season and are now above Lyon and Marseille at the top of Ligue 1. The three clubs are separated by goal difference at the halfway point in the league, which might not be enough to convince PSG's Qatari owners to stick with Ancelotti beyond this season. Despite massive expenditure on players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG have failed to dominate domestically. The club won their Champions League group and will face Valencia in the last 16. If Ancelotti fails to win the league and does not maintain his team's fine Champions League form, his bosses will probably look to Guardiola. He has links with Qatar Sport Investment, having worked as a spokesman for the country's successful 2022 World Cup bid after the Gulf nation sponsored Barcelona. Laporta does not expect Guardiola to be interested in a move to Paris: "It is not obvious how they would convince Guardiola to coach there. I do not know if Paris Saint-Germain have the adequate structure for him."
Despite the interest of the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, the Brazil national team offers the most glamourous of all of Guardiola's options. Brazil will host the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup – what could rival winning the World Cup in the Maracanã? Guardiola has been linked with the job but ex-Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed for a second spell in charge back in November. Guardiola has since distanced himself from the role: "It's an honor that a country with so many World Cups thinks I can lead them, but I have always thought that a national team should be managed by someone from that country. Scolari is one of many world-class coaches from Brazil."
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