The end of the year is almost upon us, and with it comes one of the most tantalizing times in international football – the transfer market. And while Robert Lewandowski and Jamie Vardy may have snap, crackle and popped this season, and could very well be playing in a new shirt come February, the real talking points have been those on the bench – or already off it.
Not many remember a time when there was so much uncertainty at the reigns of Europe’s top teams, and when so many clubs were linked with managers old and new, in what has fast become a one very tangled web. In order to help you get through the holiday season, we take a look at who, when, where and why.
The stars of the show are none other than old Clasico foes, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Despite their very different December lead ups, the outcome is very much the same – both are looking for a new club and a new challenge, and both, especially Guardiola, are spoiled for choice.
The Special One was sacked by the club after the 2014/15 Premier League champions were left one point above the relegation zone, in 16th place. Nine defeats in 16 matches, a staggering dip in form from top players and “palpable discord” between Mou and the team led to the first spin of the merry-go-round. Mourinho’s confirmation that he would not be taking a break only made the wheels, and gossip columns, spin faster.
Where would Mou go? The man who had managed Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter and Real Madrid may have been a legend at each of those clubs, but he certainly has the opponents as well, not least at Old Trafford. Manchester United’s form and league position may be better than Chelsea’s, but the team’s lack of inspirational play and Champions League knockout has fans desperate to see the back of Louis van Gaal.
The once legendary Dutchman, who had coached some of the greatest generations of football at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Dutch national team has for many, become the embodiment of rigid, dull football and the very opposite of what Fergie had built United to be. The fans want somebody new, somebody with the flair they had initially expected from Van Gaal. And while Mourinho may not be the first choice of many (see Pep Guardiola), as he is not known as a long-term or youth-oriented manager, nor is his preferred style of play what United faithful dream of, at the moment he could be the only solution to what is fast becoming a 5th place, Europa League season that is spinning out of control.
Manchester United however, are not the only ones who are turning to Mourinho for want of a better solution on their own bench. Many Real Madrid fans are as fed up with Rafa Benitez as the Old Trafford faithful are of Van Gaal, given his apparent lack of respect in the changing room. A number of outlets already see Mourinho back at Bernabeu as early as February, with club president Florentino Perez only able to provide a tentative no to Mou’s immediate return.
Our guess: Mourinho makes the very Mourinho move to United and leaves Real and Rafa to sort out their own mess.
While Mourinho was packing up at Stamford Bridge, Pep Guardiola confirmed that he would be leaving Bayern Munich at the end of the season. The common conclusion was that Pep had become bored at Bayern, a club that seemed to tick so effortlessly on its own, and that didn’t have much competition for the Bundesliga title. The only logical move for the former Barcelona manager is to the coveted Premier League, where competition is in abundance. A number of German outlets have all but confirmed that Pep will be making his way to Manchester City in the summer, but according to Alex Ferguson himself, Guardiola had shown a keen interest in United in the past, and could be an ideal solution for the club’s future. Pep may be the exact mix of youth and legend-oriented qualities United are looking for, but the current distress at the club, with nobody sure whether Van Gaal is staying or going, could mean that Guradiola will be lured by City’s calmer, better organized pastures.
Our guess: Pep goes to City, where Manuel Pelgrini’s season has been just as bad as that of his Premier League buddies, capped off by the team’s 2-0 loss to Arsenal on Monday.
Bayern Munich were quick to appoint Carlo Ancelotti as Guardiola’s replacement on the bench next summer. The Italian is yet another coach that had a number of legendary teams to his name – Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint German and Real Madrid, and is another former manager that Real Madrid fans were more than keen to see back at the Bernabeu instead of Benitez. The German champions crushed that dream early on though, and plucked Ancelotti out of all the drama. Real Madrid are left in a position to stick with Rafa Benitez, or go for Mourinho who did not have nice parting words for the club, but who most definitely showed authority on the bench. A possible third solution would be giving Zinedine Zidane his first senior managerial position in the very worst moment.
The 43-year-old former Real legend is currently coach of Real Madrid’s youth team, Castilla, and has already been built up as Real Madrid’s possible savior in the Spanish media. The apparent discontent in the Real Madrid squad is staggering. All three members of the famed BBC seem ill-at ease at the club. Gareth Bale is still far from the 100 million euro signing many expected, and is often played out of the central striker position he is most comfortable in. Cristiano Ronaldo has voiced his discontent at both the fans and the club, is far from vintage Ronaldo form, and has done little to dispel PSG-move rumors. And Karim Benzema is back on the pitch and back in form, but has his own blackmail court case battles to think of. Then there is James Rodriquez, whose lack of understanding with Benitez has led to him being a frequent sight on the bench and in Madrid night clubs. As legendary of a coaching career as Zizou may have ahead of him, this is not the atmosphere he would want to start in. Club president Florentino Perez is under constant pressure from the fans and media to settle the situation with Rafa, and could see Zidane as a quick fix solution that would make everyone happy, and that could easily end Zidane’s managerial career before it even started.
Our guess: Benitez makes it to the end of the season. Zidane takes over in the summer.
The British version of the Zidane-to-Madrid saga is Ryan Giggs to Manchester United. Van Gaal’s current assistant manager could take over if Van Gaal is sacked and if United miss out on both Guardiola and Mourinho. Club legends without a senior managerial post to their names, taking over in dire cirucumstances, could be the theme of next season, and would shine a light on the apparent lack of top quality managers in European football.
Our guess: Giggs stays on as Mourinho’s second hand man.
Our honorary mention goes to Claudio Ranieri. The current Leicester city manager will go into the Christmas weekend as the leader of the Premier League and the hero in what has been an increasingly bizarre season. Ranieri has managed a total of 16 clubs in his career, including a four-year stint at Chelsea, which ended in a painful, drawn out sacking in 2004 that had many sympathizing with the Italian. He was then replaced by Jose Mourinho, who fresh from winning the Champions League with Porto, sauntered into his first press conference at Chelsea and called himself the “Special One”. Many see it as fitting that it was Ranieri and Leicester’s win over Chelsea that marked the end of Mourinho and the beginning of the merry-go-round.
Our guess: Ranieri takes Leicester to the Champion’s League.
What do you think? Which manager will end up where? Have your say in the comments below.