On the Football Association’s 150th birthday Pep Guardiola praised the English game and then kicked it where it hurts, rejecting Chelsea to join Bayern Munich.
Report by Telegraph
Hearts were all aflutter when he declared his love for the Premier League, then broken when he pledged his future to Bavaria.
Here at the Bridge of sighs, there was no great surprise when Guardiola elected not to stand at the wrong end of Roman Abramovich’s itchy trigger finger.
The Chelsea crowd have become unshockable. They have seen Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo take a Russian bullet and have given up trying to decipher what might happen next.
Only in their wildest fantasies could they have entertained the hope that Guardiola would leave his apartment off Central Park to step into such volatility.
There was always a faint hope that Abramovich’s money would do the trick again.
It worked with Fernando Torres, right? Chelsea’s owner is an oligarch who started with nothing and ended up with everything. His money was supposed to be unstoppable. If he could splurge £50 million on Torres, surely he could throw together a package to lure Guardiola to west London. The word is that he had flown to New York to make his target an offer he couldn’t refuse.
But guess what. Money has found its limits. Some people cannot be bought. Other things come into play: stability, order, principles. Guardiola was not selling himself to the highest bidder. Bayern, a haven of good sense and stability, struck him as much better way to return to the stress of top-level management, which he obviously finds taxing, as his sabbatical attests.
All the elements Guardiola eulogised in his love letter to the FA — English fans, the spirit, even the media — he then said no to, for now at any rate. Expressing a wish to work here one day, he was thinking not one but two steps ahead. With its hierarchy of sages and legends, Bayern are a soft landing for him after his year out. Chelsea would have been a tempest, with the inscrutable Abramovich demanding miracles.
Stamford Bridge is a place of intrigue and cabals. The pact between owner and supporters has broken down. Guardiola might have solved that problem with his stubbly, glowing smile and his commitment to symphonic football, but the mood ahead of this Premier League clash with Southampton was pretty foul.
Regulars here were shocked by the derision heaped on Benítez, Bruce Buck the chairman, and chief executive Ron Gourlay during the 2-0 home League Cup defeat to Swansea. All the constraints that govern relations between a billionaire benefactor and grateful fans have been shredded in recent weeks. Chelsea’s followers no longer care who they upset because they can see the owner is indifferent to their wishes.
Over the past few months especially, they have observed their own powerlessness. They adored Di Matteo but could not save him. They disdained Benítez but could not stop him being appointed manager. They feel (and sound) disenfranchised. The only contribution they feel empowered to make is to heckle and boo.
With the let-down of Guardiola’s yes to Bayern Munich, of course, came an increased chance that Benítez will still be here in August. An increased fear, in other words, among the locals. Abramovich is stuck once more with his Rolodex of names. He has never looked so jilted.
But there are spots of hope for those Chelsea fans who want the “interim” in Benitez’s title adhered to. The caretaker is convinced he has a major chance of taking over from Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid when that relationship ends.
Against Southampton, Benítez sent out Demba Ba to hunt for goals while Torres warmed the bench, along with John Terry: himself a political challenge Guardiola will not now have to face. For Chelsea, a £7.5 million (about US$12million) striker has every chance of overshadowing Abramovich’s £50 million pet. Ba’s early enterprise was rewarded when he swivelled in the Southampton box to swipe home Chelsea’s first.
Benitez’s men were two up at the break through Eden Hazard before Rickie Lambert and Jason Puncheon made it another disappointing night at the Bridge.
So, a summary: Benítez would swim and hike back to Madrid if he were offered the Real job and Abramovich is back to his original position of reviewing the managerial situation in May. This is a fall back rather than a policy because he hoped to have snared Guardiola by now. Mourinho’s name just about creeps back into the picture but hardly fills the frame.
The suspicion here is that the power struggle which warped his final 12 months in London would soon start up again unless either he or Abramovich ceded ground. Neither has a PhD in compromise.
A charismatic visionary is still wanted. Mourinho’s aura was precisely right for the stage Chelsea were at eight years ago. They needed to end the 50-year wait for the league title and instil a winning culture. Since then Abramovich has followed every whim without success, hiring Luiz Felipe Scolari for entertainment and Ancelotti for Champions League know-how.
Then along came a Ken Bates-era stalwart (Di Matteo) to close the deal in Europe. Then Benítez: the ex-Liverpool anti-hero, the butt of all the anger. Guardiola was going to be cerebral, cool, far-sighted, youth friendly, iconic.
He was going to bring the poetry. Instead he administered the hardest lesson of the Abramovich era. He said no, which no one ever does.
He said no not only to the salary and the London life but also to the pay-off.