It seems an odd concept to even contemplate a potential new manager when one has just been appointed, let alone seriously discuss it. However, with Brazilian playmaker Oscar joining Eden Hazard and Marko Marin at Stamford Bridge this summer, it seems a real possibility that Chelsea’s biggest target is actually Pep Guardiola.
It is quite feasible that Chelsea approached Guardiola before confirming Roberto Di Matteo had been awarded the job on a permanent basis. There were rumours in the English press suggesting this was the case, but with the evidence being vague it was difficult to attribute any validity to the stories. However, there was certainly a delay in appointing Di Matteo. Seeing as it is unlikely he would have been against taking the job, every indication is that Chelsea were considering alternatives.
And if they were shopping around, it would be hard to fathom that Guardiola was not top of their list. After all, he masterminded the evolution of Barcelona into one of the greatest club sides in history, displaying a deep tactical nous and the ability to get the best out of his players. Furthermore the fans loved him, the board cherished him and the players adored him, making him the most sought after manager in world football. But by the end of his reign, the pressures of the job had proved enough and he decided to take a well-earned sabbatical. If the rumours of Chelsea approaching him are true, it seems he could not be convinced to cut his break short.
With the likelihood that Guardiola was the prime target, Chelsea were left with two options. They could either forget about him altogether by appointing a new long term manager – there were several realistic candidates (as well as Harry Redknapp, according to his friends in the press) who would have been interested in the job – or stick with Roberto Di Matteo. As it transpired, Di Matteo was offered the job on a permanent basis, although I cannot escape the feeling that he is seen as a short term solution by the Chelsea board, with an eye on securing Guardiola when he becomes available. That he was only offered a two year contract by a club who seemingly have no issues in handing out long term deals suggests this is the case.
This may seem a little harsh on Di Matteo given that he led the club to their first Champions League victory. There is certainly an argument that he deserves a chance on a permanent basis, but his spell as caretaker is difficult to judge. Without taking too much away from Chelsea, it would be foolish not to recognise that they experienced a lot of luck against both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. There is also the question of how much influence Di Matteo actually had. For all their faults, Chelsea’s players have a history of inspiring themselves, as they did under Avram Grant when they lost in the final to Manchester United on penalties. You would find very few people who believe Grant played a key role in their progress to the final, so the same could be said of the Italian. There is also the issue of how much the players wanted to prove André Villas-Boas wrong, as their personal performances instantly improved. League form was patchy at best, although that could be attributed to a loss of focus due to European progress.
The players brought into the club this summer certainly suggest the foundations are being laid for Guardiola’s arrival. The system he instilled at Barcelona relied upon technique, movement, intelligence, fluidity and the ability to press all over the pitch. Hazard, Marin and Oscar are all players who suit the Guardiola style and signal an intentional decision to alter the squad’s make-up. Although José Mourinho is long gone the system Chelsea used last year was still very reminiscent of him. But we should now see a significant change with these additions, combined with Juan Mata and Fernando Torres who are already at the club.
When Roman Abramovich first arrived in English football, one of the biggest concerns was that he would become bored once Chelsea conquered Europe. Instead, last summer’s victory seems to have further inspired him to build a team capable of not only winning it, but doing so in style. As he begins to build a squad capable of achieving this, the Catalan tactician must surely be in his sights.