Barcelona’s Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta said he is confident Pep Guardiola will pen his new contract. He told Marca: “The conditions for Pep to renew are favourable”. He did claim, however, that they have a plan B, adding “I have a list of potential replacements”.
So, who could be on this shortlist?
Barcelona are in a very different position today than they were before appointing Guardiola as manager. Back then, after failing to win anything for a few years, Barca sent vice-president Marc Ingla to Lisbon for an interview with José Mourinho. The Portuguese prepared a 27-page PowerPoint presentation outlining his vision, including his plans for revolutionizing the club’s traditional 4-3-3 system – much like he had done at Chelsea and later, Inter. Back in Catalonia, however, then-president Joan Laporta talked to Johan Cruyff, who convinced him that Pep is the right man for the job, even though he had no never coached at the senior-squad level.
“In terms of trophies, you can’t say a word against against Mourinho after he won everything in Portugal and England” said Cruyff, who is idolized by Barca fans and Laporta. “But mastering attacking football is the hardest thing in the game”.
The current regime in Barcelona is not on good terms with Cruyff, so the chances of the board going for a manager that promises success rather than good football are higher. However, it is safe to assume that Barcelona have realized they need someone who they can completely trust with their ideology and style. In that case, he better be an in-house promotion.
On the other hand, Guardiola’s shoes are the biggest shoes in the business right now. Letting a youth-squad coach try to take over the club after Pep could be suicidal. Can Eusebio, Barcelona B’s coach, replace Pep? I doubt that.
Tito Vilanova, Pep’s assistant, would be a natural successor, much like Bob Paisley was to Bill Shankly at Liverpool. However, one must remember that Dr Watson doesn’t have the same set of skills as his partner, Sherlock Holmes.
Is Athletic Bilbao’s Marcelo Bielsa the right man for the job?
He enjoys an excellent relationship with Pep (who famously traveled through the night to Bielsa’s remote residence outside Rosario to ask his advice when he was considering becoming a coach, and they talked for hours). According to reports, he is also the favorite for the job. Bielsa has one thing going against him, though – he is somewhat of a control freak, and it might be difficult for the board to work with him.
Another candidate for the job is Luis Enrique. Just like Guardiola, he is a former Barcelona captain, and a former Barcelona B coach as well in a difficult environment. Unlike Guardiola, he left Barca to become the manager of a different club, and a big one to boot – AS Roma, doing reasonably well in his first season there. This gives him some valuable experience, although not quite at the level he might face if he does indeed succeed his former teammate.
Guus Hiddink is an experienced football fox who can handle anything thrown at him. He might as well stabilize the boat after Pep’s departure. Arsène Wenger could do it with more panache. Valencia’s Unai Emery is also in the picture. He has always given Pep a good tactical battle.
The thing is, Barcelona’s football identity is clear. José Mourinho noted “They could play blindfolded”. It’s a system that runs through the club, making that final leap for youngsters a little easier. Most of Barca’s young players were coached by Pep when he led the B team.
Mourinho agreed in the past that Pep is better for Barca than himself. He said: “I totally agree when they say that Barcelona Laporta did better in choosing Guardiola than me. He’s certainly the best coach for Barca”.
In short, you could be a great coach, maybe the best, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can coach Barca.
Mourinho also said: “I hope Pep will continue as coach of Barca forever”.
But Pep won’t coach Barca forever, and someone must replace him eventually.
Who shall that be? It’s probably the most interesting question in the world of football – aside from “can Guardiola succeed outside Barca?”