Opinion

Rafa, Pep & Jose set for managerial merry-go-round

DEC 25 – Eight? 8? Ocho? Acht? However you say it, Chelsea’s victory over Aston Villa on Saturday was a ridiculous scoreline.

It must have led to some strange emotions for many Chelsea fans, who consequently entered the Christmas holidays delighted to see their team record such a handsome victory but simultaneously exasperated that Rafa Benitez is starting to enjoy some success with the Blues.

We may now have to consider the previously unthinkable prospect of Benitez slowly starting to turn around the views of his detractors, and ending up presiding over a long and successful era of success at Stamford Bridge.

Given the poisonous “welcome” that the Spaniard received upon being handed the keys to Roman Abramovich’s favourite toy, surely that can’t happen... can it?

In a word: no. The level of hostility felt by a significant number of Chelsea fans towards their interim manager is strong enough to ensure that he will never truly win them over.

As soon as the Blues hit a sticky patch – which they surely will, given the transitional nature of the current squad and the heavy fixture list they face in the next couple of months – easy victories over weak opposition will quickly become forgotten and the old vitriol will return.

So despite Sunday’s eight-goal haul, I can only envisage three people managing Chelsea Football Club next season – and none of them are Rafael Benitez.

One of the trio, and the first name on Abramovich’s list, is Pep Guardiola, who is currently enjoying a year off in New York after his resignation from Barcelona at the end of last season.

Abramovich has never made a secret of his admiration for Guardiola and the style of play that he instilled at the Nou Camp, and the Russian billionaire and his sidekicks are sure to expend the majority of their energies in the next few months attempting to persuade Guardiola that his next career move should take him to Stamford Bridge.

I think they will fail. From almost every perspective in terms of mentality and philosophy, Guardiola and Chelsea is a bad match. Guardiola is a long-term planner who favours the development of youth talent into a clear and defined playing system; Chelsea under Abramovich are the ultimate short-termists: buy me success and buy it now.

Maybe Abramovich will genuinely change his ways and allow Guardiola to instil a long-term strategy, even if it meant some short-term pain. Maybe Guardiola will decide that taming and turning around Chelsea’s vulgar, aggressive, moneybags mentality will present him with a sufficiently tempting challenge.

But I doubt it.

Instead, I expect Guardiola to join one of the Manchester clubs, and Chelsea instead to turn their attention to the man whose aggressive, sneering, snarling, condescending demeanour suits them perfectly: Jose Mourinho. (Cards on the table: if you haven’t already guessed, I’m not much of a Mourinho or Chelsea fan).

Mourinho has been spending the last few months doing the utmost to ensure that he gets himself sacked by Real Madrid at the end of the season – if not earlier. His latest and most confrontational act was to drop iconic captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas for Madrid’s 3-2 defeat at Malaga on Saturday for no apparent reason.

It might sound like an outlandish suggestion, but I genuinely believe Mourinho is actively trying to get himself sacked. Preposterous, I know, but so too has been much of Mourinho’s behaviour in the last few weeks – culminating in the needless and deliberately confrontational decision to drop his team’s captain and leader.

The only logical explanation I can conceive is that the Portuguese boss appears to have decided that he wants to leave Madrid – a club where he’s never felt fully appreciated by the supporters or hierarchy – and return to the English Premier League.

He does not, however, want to resign because that would involve walking away from the multi-million settlement package he’d be entitled to if he was sacked. The perfect solution, therefore, is for Mourinho to behave so badly and aggravate so much ill feeling that Madrid are left with no option but to sack him... and pay him off.

Mourinho, therefore, will almost certainly be available for employment at the end of the season – and he may well find that Abramovich comes knocking if the Russian’s attempts to lure Guardiola are rebuffed, as I believe they will be.

It would, of course, be Mourinho’s second spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, and he finished his previous reign in late 2007 with sufficient acrimony to suggest that Abramovich will be reluctant to employ him again. Time is a great healer, though, and the noises coming out of both camps suggest that Abramovich and Mourinho have sufficiently mended their relationship for a reunion to be on the cards.

Mourinho’s first choice, though, would be to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. Managing the biggest club in the world (Barcelona) is now out of Mourinho’s reach due to his appalling conduct towards the Catalan club in the last few years; managing the second biggest (United) is the only other job that would satisfy his gigantic ego.

And it just might happen. Mourinho and Ferguson have cultivated a good friendship in the last few years, and the Scotsman is sure to have a big hand in selecting his successor when the time for retirement finally comes.

Once again, though, Guardiola comes into the mix. Ferguson also has a good relationship with the ex-Barca boss, and may well prefer to pick Pep ahead of Jose.

Guardiola, however, could decide that he prefers the challenge of transforming Manchester City into world powerhouses, especially as he would be welcomed by familiar faces in City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, and chief executive, Ferran Soriano, both former Barcelona colleagues.

But then there’s the wild card in the pack: Paris St Germain. The French club are the biggest spenders in world football at the moment, and are known to be less than convinced by the abilities of current boss Carlo Ancelotti. If they decide to get rid of the Italian, they possess the ambition and budget to blow City, United and Chelsea out of the water and take their pick from any manager in the world.

This is all getting confusing. One thing I can state with confidence is that Rafael Benitez will not be managing Chelsea in August. Pep Guardiola might be, but probably not. Jose Mourinho could well be. If neither of them, Abramovich may turn to a former player who is now a rising managerial talent, current Brighton boss Gus Poyet. Or maybe not.

So where were we? Forward to August 2013 and the managerial merry go round has given us the following club/manager combinations: Chelsea and Guy Poyet; Manchester City and Pep Guardiola; Manchester United and Jose Mourinho; Paris St Germain and Rafa Benitez; Real Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti... or quite possible none of the above...

Merry Christmas!

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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