Saturday, November 24, 2012

Abramovich, Benitez and Guardiola: bizarre love triangle

In 2007, Michael Voss, a former Brownlow medallist, inspirational club captain and widely-touted Premiership coach in waiting, had announced he wanted a head-coaching gig for the following season.  In quick response, three AFL clubs fired incumbent coaches to obtain the hottest leadership property available in years.  

When fallen league heavyweights Carlton effectively vacated their coaching staff only days after arch-rivals Essendon dispatched their coach of twenty-seven years, Essendon officials were overheard leaving Pagan’s final exit interview saying “They want the same guy we want”.  No-one had to clarify who that guy was.  Perhaps unwittingly – but probably not – Voss had cast a shadow over the entire league landscape that eventually cost three coaches their jobs.

Neither team succeeded in employing Voss, who went on to take over his former club, the Brisbane Lions.  This is perhaps to their benefit, as Voss’ five-year coaching record stands at 32 wins, 53 losses and a tie.
Once in a while, a coaching property so desirable enters the marketplace and every club with delusions of grandeur fall over themselves to acquire him.  Proverbial dead men walking walk no longer.  The spectre of the available coach stalks the landscape until he commits to a contract – usually at the club of his choice.  His resume is so powerful, so compelling that any destination club hedges their personnel bets ... just in case they get a chance to employ that one mystical, alchemical coach.

No, that coach is not Harry Redknapp – no matter how much he’d like it to be.

It’s Pep Guardiola.  Despite currently “on sabbatical” in New York, his avatar haunts the high-paid underperformers.  This week, interim Chelsea boss (come on, admit it – was he really anything else?) Roberto Di Matteo was dismissed only months after leading Chelsea to their first Champions League title.  While his team had underperformed in November, the phenomenon is hardly unusual.  Where Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was in love with Mourinho, fascinated by Andre Villas-Boas and is infatuated by Guardiola, he barely even liked Di Matteo.

The new Chelsea manager is Rafael Benitez, a former Champions League winner himself, who agreed to coach the Blues only until the end of this season; in so doing, he has embraced his destiny as Abramovich’s rebound fling while the oligarch continues his unrequited love affair with the former Barcelona manager.

It’s not just the Blues of London who find themselves sweaty with anticipation of a glance from Pep: Roberto Mancini should probably look upon Txiki Begiristain’s appointment as Man City football director with dismay, Guardiola’s “philosophy” apparently mirrors that of Arsene Wenger, while Sir Alex Ferguson is thought to prefer Guardiola as his successor at Old Trafford.  Quiet overtures have been received from the Milan twins, AC and Inter and reports have emerged today that Brazil kind of fancy a dapper bald guy to succeed Mano Menezes.

Guardiola has unconsciously cast an enormous shadow over the entire coaching landscape that won’t be dismissed until he signs a contract.  And for this reason, the likes of Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo, Benitez – or indeed anyone managing a club with money – will find themselves victim to the whims of chairmen everywhere.

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