It all began with an article about the return of Rafa Benitez to Real Madrid, orchestrated to coincide with an almost one-for-one trade to Rafa Benitez´s current club Chelsea and the Mou-gasm that awaits the ¨Special One¨ on his his return to Stamford Bridge. It´s a neat little fantasy, worthy of any one who´s played Football Manager at any given time, but this is the real world. ¨You can´t go home again¨, as Thomas Wolfe said, and both Rafa Benitez and José Mourinho are canny enough not to return to clubs where they might have made their mark. Chelsea for Mou? Doubtful. Real Madrid for Rafa? Laughable.
You see, unless you have been around awhile you won´t realize that these openings are very much tied to the organizational structures at the respective clubs and specifically what they are looking for on the long-term. It´s more than just an exercise in where Rafe Benitez or José Mourinho will go, or where they should go mind you, but the coaching carousel in Europe turns and where it stops only the observant know. Let´s plot this out then and maybe we can predict with a little more certainty where these in demand managers might wind up. Before we begin remember, it´s not what we want nor is it what the managers want, it´s the Chairmen that direct the traffic.
Rafa Benitez: start first with the manager. What does he want? He wants a return to a big club with the assets to suit his ambitions and where his owner will give him the wherewithal to implement his system, his program, and that´s not Chelsea nor is it Liverpool even though his former club could use him. It´s not even Real Madrid where his association and friendship with Vicente del Bosque may seem the asset but it´s really not. As long as Perez is the President, Rafa has no chance of returning. Where then for Rafa? He has had opportunities in Spain and around Europe, but he has held out for a return to management of an English side because of the autonomy. Would he involve himself with the new money of a QPR? No, the management seems a little too flaky which is why a long-term stay at Chelsea seems impossible considering how he gets on with Chairmen? Would he look for a club that would keep out of his business as long as he won? Am I out of touch to think that Arsene Wenger may at last be squeezed out at Arsenal and Rafa might renew his battle with Sir Alex by guiding the Gunners? Never say never, but that's exactly the sort of club Rafa needs.
José Mourinho: it is a facile argument that José will do as he has always done. He will follow the money trail, and he will take over at a club that is prime for the taking, and ready for the short-term fix that José brings to any club he manages. He has said that his heart is in England. Most would say that his fate lies with Manchester City, but the club´s ownership has clearly risen up against the media-circus that any Mourinho club aspires to. I think José has an especially large burr in his stocking about his failure to win the Champions League in England. Chelsea is still his team. He owns property in London. It´s an easy bit of speculation, but I think the word from Sir Alex Ferguson is telling. He does not want to continue for very much longer. He respects Mourinho and he has said that the Portuguese manager could succeed at any club in Europe, especially at Manchester United. I think Mou surprises us and takes over at United especially if as some are reporting that Mourinho will stay at Real Madrid through the end of his contract.
Pep Guardiola: I think the club with the best profile to land Pep Guardiola is Manchester City. He will flirt with Abramovich, but Txiki Begiristain was hired to bring a bit of Spanish invention before contacting the former FC Barcelona captain, but it´s a no-brainer. They have plenty of skill players like David Silva and Yaya Toure who have played under that system. They have plenty who would benefit from the quiet leadership of a Pep Guardiola. The question is would he accept the offer to coach the Citizens? It´s a more stable and less-trigger happy management team than at his other suitor Chelsea FC. Why would Pep work for Roman if he could barely stand Sandro Rosell? Manchester City it is.
Carlo Ancelotti: he´s the one coach with as good or a better European resume than José Mourinho. If Real Madrid are bounced out of the competition this year again, considering their lackluster performance so far in Europe, Perez won´t hesitate to call on Carletto. I realize that he has failed to bring his very disjointed team at PSG around in the very competitive Ligue 1 but his calming influence would be perfect for a Real Madrid squad that is as jumpy as whippets after a cannon-blast.
This may not all happen at once, nor even this year, but we'll look back on this time in a few years. We'll see that as stable as we think the landscape is, even for the Wengers and Fergusons for all their seemed permanence, football is a changing landscape.