Guardiola race intensifies as Europe's heavyweights jostle for pole position

SPECIAL REPORT
By Greg Stobart

The European season still has plenty of distance to run, but already Europe’s elite clubs are plotting ahead with the scramble for Pep Guardiola's services having begun in earnest.

Guardiola, who is currently on a year-long sabbatical in New York, has confirmed that he intends to return to management next season having won 14 trophies in four years at the Camp Nou before resigning last summer.

The 41-year-old’s representatives have held unofficial talks with a number of suitors as he prepares to make a decision in the coming months amid interest from Bayern Munich and a clutch of Premier League heavyweights.

Reports on the continent that Guardiola has already agreed to take over Bayern are wide of the mark, although Goal.com sources have confirmed that meetings have taken place between the parties as the German giants attempt to line up the former Barcelona skipper to replace Jupp Heynckes.

Guardiola’s focus when he takes on his next role will be on the project rather than any concerns about salary, while he has expressed his desire to experience a different league and culture following his success in Spain.

Bayern are certainly the bookmakers’ favourites to land Guardiola and tick many of the boxes. For a start, they are a club with tremendous history, huge ambition and are guaranteed to compete for titles and trophies.

The odds of Guardiola taking the plunge and swapping La Liga for the Bundesliga plumeted on Tuesday, despite Bayern dismissing speculation that a deal had already been put in place and the man himself revealing his desire to test his credentials in England.

Certainly Guardiola is not short of Premier League admirers, with champions Manchester City extremely attracted to the idea of luring the best coach on the market to the Etihad Stadium.

Roberto Mancini signed a five-year contract with City last summer but his long-term future at the club has looked increasingly insecure since the appointment of Ferran Soriano as chief executive and Txiki Begiristain as director of football.

Both of the Spaniards worked closely with Guardiola at Barcelona and he is said to have a particularly tight relationship with Begiristain, who is charged with leading City towards Champions League glory and domestic domination, in addition to ensuring the club comply with Uefa’s financial fair play regulations.

City are not, however, the only English powerhouse to be in the market for Guardiola. Roman Abramovich has twice offered him the frequently available job as Chelsea manager - first in the summer and again when the Russian billionaire sacked Roberto Di Matteo in November.

Guardiola is tempted by the prospect of taking over at Stamford Bridge and living in London, but he has been put off by Abramovich’s impatience in sacking previous bosses, as well as the goldfish bowl nature of managing the Blues.

Then there is the prospect of taking over from long-term incumbents at Arsenal or Manchester United and building on the legacies of Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Goal.com revealed last month that Guardiola had privately expressed a serious interest in becoming the next Arsenal manager should Wenger decide to step aside at the end of the season.

The Frenchman is under more pressure than at any point since taking over in 1996 and would see Guardiola as the perfect man to return the Gunners to former glories. At the Emirates Stadium, he will be guaranteed the time to build something special at a well-run club, whose basic football philosophy matches the style Guardiola implemented at Barcelona.

Sir Alex has also mentioned Guardiola and Jose Mourinho by name as two possible replacements when he finally decides to end his time in charge at Old Trafford. There have been growing whispers this season that the Scot may call it a day in the summer and the 71-year-old is obsessed with ensuring a smooth transition when he retires as manager.

Guardiola and Sir Alex spent time together in New York during the international break in September and the Spaniard has the skill, respect and pedigree to take on the challenge.

The Scot and Wenger will have the major say when it comes to deciding their successor and the timing of their retirement will be pivotal as both men will want to hand over to their top choice. With Guardiola in the market for a job and Mourinho also possibly available, it could be a seismic summer for English football.

Guardiola and his representatives will fully assess the options before making a final decision, and much could change in the coming months to alter his thinking. Yet whatever develops, he will be back in the dugout next season - and there are executives all over Europe who want to make sure it is at their club.

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