x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pep Guardiola still tops Roman Abramovich's list at Chelsea

When the coach ends his sabbatical to return to football the likelihood is that it will in the Premier League, writes Duncan Castles.

Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea, has courted Pep Guariola for a number of years, according to a new book. Ben Stansall / AFP
Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea, has courted Pep Guariola for a number of years, according to a new book. Ben Stansall / AFP

In a newly published biography of Pep Guardiola, the Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague spends a surprising amount of time writing about Roman Abramovich.

The Russian billionaire's obsession with all things Barcelona is no secret; the details of his attempts to install the Catalan club's most successful coach at Stamford Bridge are worth acquiring the book for.

Balague describes salary proposals "growing with each attempt: €10 million (Dh46.9m) a year, €13m, even €15m according to certain sources" littering Guardiola's last three seasons at Camp Nou. He tells of an invite after the 2011 sacking of Carlo Ancelotti to be picked up by private helicopter and holiday on one of Abramovich's fleet of yachts. ("Stop telling me these things. I don't want to meet Roman or I might have my head turned by him," is Guardiola's response.)

And he catalogues Abramovich's two attempts to land Guardiola earlier this year. The first involved Rafa Benitez taking on a three-month contract as the replacement for Andre Villas-Boas before handing over to Guardiola. The second, "proposed the appointment of an interim manager for one season to leave the Stamford Bridge door open for Pep a year later, wanting him to design the squad for the 2013/14 season as soon as he was ready".

If Abramovich could have got away with it, the new contract awarded to Roberto Di Matteo for his extraordinary achievement in guiding Chelsea to a Champions League and FA Cup double last May would have been of just a single season's duration.

The two-year deal the Italian insisted upon offers as much security as any of predecessors under the oligarch. After September's scoreless draw at Queens Park Rangers, one player notably close to the owner allowed it to be known that he did not expect Di Matteo to survive until the end of the month.

Although AC Milan want Guardiola almost as badly as the Russian, when the coach ends his New York sabbatical to return to football the likelihood is that it will be for a position in the Premier League. There have already been conversations about Manchester United should Sir Alex Ferguson elect to step down this summer.

With his friends and former Camp Nou colleagues Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain now in situ as chief executive and director of football, Manchester City can offer a familiar working environment should Roberto Mancini require replacing. But there is no question who will throw the most wealth and wherewithal at Guardiola.

Abramovich is not finished yet.

 

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