Pitchside Europe

Pep playing it cool as suitors circle

Pitchside Europe

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Pep Guardiola is enjoying the relative anonymity of life in a £15,000-a-month apartment over looking Central Park on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

He can go days without being recognised. Not by tourists, and not by locals who live in the glamorous penthouses or the public housing projects which sit cheek by jowl with some of the most expensive real estate in the world. It's a long way from Santpedor, his hometown of 6,800 in rural Catalonia, but Guardiola has long been a man of the world.

Sir Alex Ferguson owns an apartment nearby, which offers equally splendid views of the world's most incredible cityscape. He too likes to walk the streets without being recognised. He goes two or three times a year. The pair met informally in New York in September.

Guardiola's prime reason was to take a year out, to recharge and spend time with his family. Too many managers regret not seeing their children grow up because they were engrossed in work, dealing with problems which shouldn't have been problems, over-indulged 20-somethings who want more money and more minutes.

At Barcelona, Guardiola had a picture of his wife and kids above his old generation ipod in his surprisingly Spartan office, but he was completely immersed in his work, his attention to detail about his own side and future opponents obsessive.

He also wanted to improve his English, which is very good but open to misinterpretation. When he complimented Jack Wilshere last year saying: "We have many players like this in Barcelona's B team," the positive words were unfairly spun against him by the English media who claimed he meant that Wilshere was only good enough for Barca's reserves.

Eric Cantona pretended that he didn't speak English as a defence to keep out of conversations he didn't want; Roberto Mancini uses his passable but not perfect English as a disarming weapon to make a point or amuse. Mancini can play daft, but he's anything but. Guardiola wants to master the language.

Despite the move across the Atlantic, Guardiola is not out of sight nor mind. Old friends and colleagues from football who go to New York meet up with him. That's reported back as news. He's also using his free time to see great sporting events live, from the US Open to the Ryder Cup, where he walked from hole to hole with his family. Fans there recognised him.

"Come and manage Man United," shouted one. Guardiola smiled and put his thumbs up. He would have done the same if the words had been Chelsea, Arsenal, Milan or Manchester City. And those are the clubs he's been linked with for the future.

His agent Jose Maria Orobitg is the man who will get the offers which will come this season ahead of Guardiola starting work again at a new club next June. The start date will be July, but Guardiola will get there a month earlier and suss things out. That's his style. And that's the plan.

Where he's going changes by the week. If Chelsea lose a game then his name crops up. He'd love the West London living, but would Guardiola be happy at a club where the owner Roman Abramovich has a say in every major decision, including what happens on the pitch?

Arsenal share a similar football philosophy to Guardiola's and the Catalan loves the longevity which managers at English clubs enjoy as they try to build an empire. But despite not winning a trophy since 2005, Wenger still has a huge bank of credit among fans.

Don't expect convention with Guardiola. This is a man who went to Brescia, not Milan, who went to Al Ahli in Qatar and to Dorados of Mexico as a player. He doesn't do predictable. He likes to go somewhere where he can make a noticeable difference, from Barcelona's B team to Manchester City, where he went on trial in 2005.

"One day when I was training, I saw a familiar looking new player," recalls Andrew Cole, then of City. "Few of the other lads realised that it was Pep Guardiola. He spoke English and was friendly. He was on trial at City and showed his class in training straight away — the class which made him arguably the best defensive midfield player in the world earlier in his career for Barcelona and Spain."

Guardiola didn't sign for City, but he may sign for them in the future, especially given his close working relationship with newly appointed City sporting director Tkiki Begiristain. That's the Begiristain who can speak four of Spain's official languages (Castilian, Catalan, Basque and Galician). Guardiola worked with the Basque Begiristain closely and with great success, while he also worked with City's chief executive, fellow Catalan Ferran Soriano.

As it stands, Mancini's job is safe. He's the boss of the league champions, but continued failure in Europe will cost him his job. Which leaves Manchester United, a club Guardiola holds in the highest regard.

Ferguson is 71 next month and has been in the United job 26 years this week. He'll be remembered as the greatest manager in English football history. Ferguson rates Guardiola highly as a coach and a person, just as he rated him as a player, once giving Nicky Butt specific instructions to squeeze the area he played in. It didn't work: Barcelona won 4-0.

Ferguson will have a say in anointing a successor. He may even be on hand to work with him and advise, though whoever replaces him will not get the power that the Scot currently has. The Glazers, like other owners, want more control. But they have been briefed that Guardiola, 41, is the man.

Do United sit tight and wait until Ferguson decides it's time to go and risk losing the brightest young coach in world football? Or do they bite the bullet and appoint Guardiola next summer?

Andy Mitten will be blogging for us on all matters in La Liga throughout the season. He contributes to FourFourTwo, the Manchester Evening News and GQ magazine amongst other publications.

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