Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

James Lawton: Sorry, Roman, but not everyone has his price. Ask Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola enjoys another moment of success at Barcelona

Having spoken at some length about his desire to enjoy the Premier League experience, Pep Guardiola has now delivered something of rather greater significance. He has let us know, in the wake of all those dreamy platitudes, he will be spending the next three years of his working life with Bayern Munich.

There are various ways of interpreting this decision by the most desired young manager in all of football but the most compelling, surely, is the message it sends to Roman Abramovich.



The Chelsea owner, widely believed to have summoned Rafa Benitez from several years of unemployment while he continued to pursue the former coach of Barcelona who in four years gathered three La Liga and two Champions League titles, has been told that there are still a few men in football who do not have their price.



As his New York sabbatical draws towards its close, Guardiola has selected a workplace where summary firings – even of men who have just won the greatest club title in world football – are not some whimsical expression of the owner's rights.



Not the least irony of Guardiola's appointment is that he replaces the experienced Jupp Heynckes, whose anticlimactic spring would surely have sent him hurtling down the Stamford Bridge plank almost as quickly as the oligarch picked up his phone.



Heynckes was beaten to the Champions League title by Roberto Di Matteo's team before the Bayern fans, having earlier surrendered the Bundesliga crown to Jürgen Klopp's brilliant young Borussia Dortmund team. Now Heynckes will complete the final year of his contract before saying farewell in the spring. In all the circumstances, it seems like a reasonably civilised arrangement, especially when you consider the turmoil and angst which have been tearing Chelsea apart from the moment of Di Matteo's exit.



Manchester City may have felt that they had the superior chance of landing Guardiola in view of their more steadfast support of the embattled Roberto Mancini and the fact that their two former Barcelona executives, Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, have worked closely with the man who decided to walk away from such riches as Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.



However, when you have as many options as Guardiola it makes sense to consider where you might best protect a hard-won reputation. City, relatively speaking, certainly ticked more boxes than their fellow plutocrats in west London but, if Guardiola is as avid a follower of the English game as his video message to the FA on its 150th anniversary suggested, he may have been somewhat disconcerted by the recent statement from Abu Dhabi that Mario Balotelli is good for the "world brand".



No doubt Guardiola, who when he first announced his intention of walking away from the Nou Camp was warned by Sir Alex Ferguson that he might never again know such strength, has satisfied himself that Bayern and the Bundesliga offer him optimum conditions for a successful return to the trenches.



He has balanced the value of mega earnings against that of working respect, the sense that he can seamlessly resume a life in football that depends almost completely on his own instincts and judgement.



It is a verdict that might just provide Chelsea, especially, with some perspective on the challenge of making a football club with some long-term coherence. Waiting for Guardiola has proved a futile business but then who can be truly surprised?



Guardiola built his career with a flawless understanding of all his advantages at Barcelona. Why, indeed, would he have put it all at risk in the shooting gallery down on Fulham Road?

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