Pep's next step hits Blues where it hurts
Pep Guardiola delivered a resounding snub to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, agreeing a three-year deal to become manager of Bayern Munich from next season.
Guardiola's decision to return to management in the Bundesliga despite huge interest from England, led by Abramovich, has implications across the Premier League, where Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal were also watching his next move closely.
The switch hugely strengthens Rafael Benitez's position at Chelsea, where he is interim manager. He now has a much better chance of persuading the owner, and supporters who have so far rejected him, that he is the long-term choice.
It also marks a significant victory for Manchester City's Roberto Mancini, who will now feel more secure in his position at the Etihad.
Guardiola, who won 14 trophies in four seasons at Barcelona including two European Cups, has signed a three-year deal worth a reported €8m-a-year and will succeed current coach Jupp Heynckes on July 1.
He has been linked with the Chelsea and City jobs throughout the first six months of a sabbatical that followed his resignation as Barcelona coach last summer after a spell of phenomenal success.
Both Chelsea and Manchester City appeared to be preparing the ground for Guardiola with recent signings both on and off the pitch. Chelsea's summer signings, including Oscar and Eden Hazard, appeared tailor-made for the Spaniard.
The club tried to appoint him in the summer after Roberto di Matteo's Champions League success, and again in November when they dismissed the Italian.
At City, meanwhile, they recruited former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain to work alongside chief executive Ferran Soriano, formerly general manager at the Nou Camp.
Chelsea insist that Guardiola's decision does not change their strategy of seeing out the season with Benitez in charge and then reviewing the managerial post in the summer. Neither did it come as a huge surprise to the hierarchy as they were aware of the overtures made to Guardiola by the Bavarian club.
It does represent a personal rejection of Abramovich however, after the Russian tried and failed three times to persuade Guardiola to come to Stamford Bridge.
His decision to grant Di Matteo an opportunity to take the job full-time from the start of the season was taken only after Guardiola said he would not take the post immediately.
The Span-iard's potential availability also informed the decision to offer Benitez only an interim post, with a contract that expires at the end of May.
That position may now be reviewed. Despite enduring extreme hostility from Chelsea fans, his success in instilling greater tactical discipline on a side in transition has been appreciated by Abramovich's advisors.
It was revealed last week that Benitez has been the subject of interest from Real Madrid, who appear likely to sack Jose Mourinho at the end of the year. An offer from Madrid could leave Abramovich with a difficult decision to make, and there will be speculation that Benitez and Mourinho could trade jobs at the end of the season.
That would come as a considerable surprise to many at Chelsea given the rancorous nature of Mourinho's departure in 2007. Sources suggest Abramovich would not consider offering him the job given their history, and the huge pay-off he received when he left.
Given the field of potential successors, which if Abramovich continues to favour younger appointments will be long on potential but short on experience, he still cannot be ruled out.
Borussia Dortmund coach, Jurgen Klopp, Michael Laudrup of Swansea, German national team manager Joachim Low, Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid and David Moyes could all be rivals for the post.
Guardiola's move also leaves City without their favoured option as Roberto Mancini's potential successor.
Despite signing a five-year contract at the Etihad Stadium after guiding City to the title last season, Mancini's grip on his job had been weakened by the team's Champions League elimination prior to the knockout stages.
The appointments Soriano and Begiristain also created a sense of uncertainty around Mancini's future.
But with senior figures at the Etihad making it clear that Mourinho is not a contender to manage the club, Guardiola's move to Bayern has left Mancini without a serious rival for his position.
Begiristain's arrival earlier this season has led to the Spaniard taking control of transfer policy and contract negotiations with first-team players.
Sources close to Mancini insist that the former Inter Milan manager is comfortable with Begiristain's involvement, but it is also no secret that Mancini had viewed Guardiola as a serious rival and genuine contender to succeed him at the Etihad prior to his decision to accept the Bayern job. (© Daily Telegraph, London)