After the announcement on Wednesday that F.C. Barcelona Head Coach Josep “Pep” Guardiola had signed a contract extension, many Barça fans will undoubtedly be thrilled.
The new terms will extend Guardiola’s tenure at Camp Nou for another season, until June 2012.
Inevitably with news such as this, thoughts will turn to the question of who could possibly replace the local hero synonymous with the red and blue of “La Blaugrana,” once the high achieving orchestrator finally turns his back on la Masia?
It seems apparent that Guardiola will not prolong his stay for longer than these new revised terms, but it seems a near impossible task to conjure up a candidate both worthy and capable of taking over such a mantle.
It will be an assignment of epic proportions.
In his time as Barça manager, Guardiola has guided his side to two La Liga titles and a Champions League win. This European victory came during a season of unprecedented success in 2009; it was a year in which the world’s best side also claimed the World Club Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup—an unparalleled six trophies in all.
Pep is a local icon.
In the league, he is the most successful manager of all time after his first century of games in charge, having won 79, drawn 14 and lost just seven.
He has beaten arch rivals in “el clasico” five times out of five and so who, if anyone, could follow such achievements come July 2012?
Externally there is a wealth of talent currently operating within the European market. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is perennially linked with the hot seat in question and would be tempted if the right offer came in.
He has served his time at the Emirates and may well feel it is time to move on in 2012.
The Frenchman has bred a sublime passing mentality through the Arsenal ranks with the Catalan Cesc Fabregas as his main hub. This along with a firm focus on the development of youth football are cultures that the two clubs share; a philosophy indebted to la Masia at Barcelona and the foresight of Johann Cruyff.
Wenger’s compatriot Didier Deschamps may well also be in with a realistic chance of landing the job.
He has big club experience with Juventus and Marseille and has won a number of major domestic honours to back up his claims. The French League and Cup double in his first season in charge of Marseille, along with guiding Juventus back into Serie A after their year in disgrace highlight an undisputed talent.
Debatably these achievements are even less impressive than his feat of guiding Monaco to the Champions League final back in 2004.
The timing could indeed be perfect for Deschamps, whose contract runs out at Marseille on the day that Guardiola is expected to depart Barça. The same convenient contract expiry date is also the case for the already Catalonian based, Mauricio Pochettino.
The 38-year old Espanyol manager is enjoying a growing reputation as a manager within the game. The Argentinean has guided the Periquitos to a current league position of sixth and has a distinguished managerial future ahead of him.
Another young coach who is gleaning quite a reputation as a potential master tactician is Michael Laudrup.
One of the greatest to have played on the European stage, the Dane once played for la Blaugrana, is still young at age 46 and as a manager boasts an attacking, free flowing, passing style.
On paper, a perfect fit for Barça.
Indeed, it is Pep Guardiola himself who described Laudrup as a coach who would suit the Barça mentality and sees no reason why the former Danish international could not one day become the Barça boss.
A Copa del Rey final appearance, along with an unexpected foray to the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup in 2008 with Getafe add to his emerging credentials. The success over the coming season and a half with his current employers, Real Mallorca will dictate the location of his next dugout.
Tenuous links have seen former Dutch maestro Michael van Basten mentioned as a future Culés chief. His managerial CV so far looks weak, having failed to guide Ajax to the Champions League in 2009 but he seems to be lobbying for a future post; he recently described Guardiola’s side as the best team of all time.
The Harlem Globetrotters of world football was another description given by the Swan of Utrecht as he described Barça as being from another universe.
However, the lobbying for van Basten may be not simply consigned to self endorsement.
It is generally considered that the former Honourary President of Barça, club legend and manager and influential advisor Johann Cruyff believes van Basten should be high on the list of potential replacements.
Finally, as with Guardiola and owing to his huge success, Sandro Rosell will be sure to consider another internal appointment.
Two candidates are apparent; the Sporting Director of Youth Football, Guillermo Amor and current Barcelona B Head Coach, Luis Enrique.
Both are Barça legends who are irrevocably ingrained with the club. Amor probably does not have a realistic chance, but Enrique will be aiming to tread the path of his predecessor at Mini Estadi and like Guardiola would look to blood talent from the youth system and his impressive “B” side.
Who should replace Guardiola at Barça when his contract run out?
Marc Bartra, Thiago Alcantara and Marc Muniesa are three glittering prospects that would continue the unsurpassed production line through to the first team.
Guardiola’s teams have featured, on average, 58 percent of players brought through la Masia system.
Whoever takes the reigns come July 2012 will face a daunting proposition, with a weight of expectation almost unbearable.
He will need to be blessed with organised leadership with an innovative mind. Succeeding a coach who has conducted one of the greatest symphonies world football has ever seen over the past three years is no easy undertaking.