Naturally, it hasn’t taken long since Ronald Koeman’s inevitable sacking at Barcelona, for Pep Guardiola to be linked with a return to the Nou Camp.
Albeit tenuously, Guardiola has been named as an ideal replacement for Koeman, as he has been most times they have changed manager since his departure ten years ago.
The bookmakers have Guardiola as a 66/1 outsider to be the next Barcelona manager, with his former midfielder Xavi the odds-on favourite to succeed Koeman. Guardiola’s inclusion on the betting list is more to bump up the numbers than a reflection of his actual chances, and the Manchester City manager has made his feelings perfectly clear on the subject in recent years.
Before Joan Laporta’s election as Barcelona president last year, Guardiola’s name was used as a campaigning tool by some candidates, suggesting he could return and herald in a new era for the club. Guardiola responded to the speculation at the time, and since Laporta was appointed he has clarified that position further.
In short, Guardiola has no intention of returning to the Nou Camp as manager.
In November 2020, after Lionel Messi’s high-profile attempt to leave Barca which prompted the subsequent presidential election, Guardiola was asked directly over whether he would return to the club as boss.
His answer couldn’t have been clearer: “I said many times, my period as a manager in Barcelona is over.
“I think in life there is once you have to do things. There are incredible people who can be in charge there, now for example Ronald Koeman. It’s over, I will come back to my city to see my club, to watch the game, it’s done.”
It was a speculation-ending answer, with a firm but respectful ‘no’ to any hopeful bosses at the Nou Camp hoping to use Guardiola to try and get elected. Koeman remained in charge, Laporta won the election, and City hoped that would be the end of the speculation.
Not quite. Laporta admitted it remained his dream to reappoint Guardiola, saying just before last season’s Champions League final: “I am not here to talk about dreams, I am here to talk about realities. When we talk about Guardiola, the only thing in my head is that I hope he can win the Champions League this weekend.
“That would be marvellous for him, and for those of us who love him. I have good friends there [at City], I hope they win.”
Speculation had suggested that winning the Champions League at City would be enough for Guardiola to walk away on a high, but having signed a new contract until 2023 that season, Guardiola reiterated his long-held stance that he intends to honour any contract he has signed.
“I have a two-year contract at Manchester City, I am happy and it will continue to be so,” he said after the Champions League final.
“It’s good news that Koeman will continue. At many times, Barcelona have played the best football in Spain – and the second seasons are usually better.
“Koeman is their ideal coach for next season, I’m very happy and the president is convinced. It’s been a tough year for everyone and Ronald deserves another season, with fans in the stadium. I have spoken with Joan Laporta. I’ve seen him very convinced of the decision he has made with Koeman.”
The latter part of that sentiment hasn’t aged too well, with Barcelona starting the season poorly after losing Lionel Messi, and taking the decision to sack Koeman on Wednesday night after a defeat at Rayo Vallecano.
Xavi has been installed as the early favourite, and Guardiola spoke over the summer that his former number six would one-day take the reigns at Barcelona.
“I hope someone like Xavi, [Sergi] Busquets or [Javier] Mascherano will come through,” he told TV3 in Spain, again distancing himself from the role.
“It’s up to them to decide. If you think I can help Barca I’m happy with life. There must be others who are taking the plunge. There are people who are very capable of coaching Barca.”
Guardiola has previously endorsed Xavi’s coaching credentials as well, telling Catalunya Radio in October 2019: “Xavi was already a manager when he played. His eyes sparkled watching football. He will be a manager for sure.
“There are people who play and you would never say they will be managers. This is not the case. Xavi could be a manager wherever he likes, not just at Barcelona. You have to give him time. Sooner or later, he will manage Barcelona.
“He’s still young, he knows football, he watches it, he has passion, dedication, he is brave and bold and he says things clearly too. It would excite me to see him manage Barcelona. On top of everything, he likes to manage and he focuses on everything.”
However, while Guardiola is firm that his period at Barcelona is over, his father has suggested there remains a part of him that could choose to go back.
Speaking over the summer, Valenti Guardiola was quoted as saying: “I don’t want Pep to direct the Spanish national team. Now, to return to Barcelona as a coach or as a person who‘d give advice is something that I do not rule out.”
Maybe, though, it can be ruled out until at least 2023, to the relief of City fans.