The winners of the Josep Guardiola sweepstakes are a team that scarcely anybody knew was even in the running.
The former FC Barcelona manager will be managing Bayern Munich next season.
Guardiola won 14 major trophies in just four seasons at the helm of Barcelona but opted not to renew his contract ahead of the current season and go on a sabbatical in New York City instead. Since then, the 41-year-old coach and former midfielder, who is credited with masterminding Barca's ongoing dynastic run, has been heavily pursued by a slew of the game's heavyweights.
The chief contenders were thought to be Chelsea and Manchester City of the Premier League . Both have almost unlimited resources to invest in their players but are fairly volatile environments as well. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is a relative soccer neophyte who is nevertheless notoriously meddlesome and has triggered through 10 managers in the decade since he bought the club. At City, meanwhile, the expectations are outsized given the investment of well over a billion dollars into the club since the 2008 arrival of Sheikh Mansour's Abu Dhabi based ownership. And there, the rapid influx of stars asked to set aside their considerable egos with many eccentricities who share playing time equitably has made for a combustible locker room.
Yet Chelsea had seemingly prepared the land for Guardiola's arrival by only replacing the fired Roberto Di Matteo with an interim manager in fellow Spaniard Rafael Benitez last November. City, meanwhile, had loaded up on former Barcelona executives and front office staff, many of whom are long-term colleagues and friends of Guardiola, moves thought to be made for his benefit.
So when reports started surfacing in the Italian media on Tuesday that Bayern Munich, the colossus of the German league , was on the verge of lining up Guardiola to succeed Jupp Heynckes - who will retire after the season - the soccer world was dismissive. Bayern hadn't been thought to be bidding for Guardiola's services. In fact, the day prior to the announcement, Bayern media director Markus Horwick had called suggestions that Bayern was on the precipice of landing Guardiola "complete rubbish." And the manager himself talked up the Premier League on the same day while maintaining that he was waiting for all offers to come in before making a decision.
That decision, it seemed, was a little ways away.
On Wednesday, however, Bayern announced that it had signed Guardiola to a three-year deal that will run until June 2016. Guardiola's choice is interpreted by some as the second snub of the Premier League in as many weeks, widely considered the world's most competitive. Yet none of its players were selected for FIFA's 2012 World XI team at last week's Ballon d'Or festivities (rather, all 11 came from the Spanish league ). With the world's most coveted manager now foregoing the chance to manage one of its biggest clubs, the question rightly arises if the Premier League has lost some of its luster.
This collaboration makes an enormous amount of sense for both parties. Bayern is one of the world's biggest, richest and, crucially, most stable clubs. In accordance with Bundesliga rules requiring majority ownership of pro clubs by fans, Bayern supporters own 82 percent of the club's shares.
Consequently, no manager is subject to the whims of his owner. And if Bayern isn't thought to have been willing to offer Guardiola as much as Abramovich or Mansour might have, Guardiola has never been zeroed in on the numbers in his bank account. He spurned several Barca offers to renew his contract, and turned down a behemoth nine-figure (the first of which was probably not a 1) offer to manage the national team of Qatar some time ago.
Rather, he is picking from the pile of suitors a club that plays attractive soccer in a high-octane and challenging league - more so than the Spanish one. Bayern has a young, mostly homegrown core with dazzling technique and physical abilities - not unlike Guardiola's Barcelona side - that seems on the precipice of breaking through continentally. Last season, Bayern was unlucky to lose the UEFA Champions League final to a late Chelsea equalizer and a subsequent penalty shootout. And with a nine-point lead atop the Bundesliga, Bayern seems a lock to unseat back-to-back champions Borussia Dortmund , who will represent Guardiola's biggest rival - the Real Madrid to his Barca.
If he can impart his attacking savvy to this brainy bunch - anchored by magnificent midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez; defenders Philip Lahm and Jerome Boateng; forwards Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller; and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, in addition to a hungry pack of gifted prospects - Bayern could even threaten Barca at the top of the pyramid.
Guardiola's choice is an unimpeachably wise one, however unexpected.