MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have long been considered a likely match: Soccer’s most admired coach and a club with massive spending power seeking to become the dominant force in Europe.
It’s been four years in the making, but finally they’ll be united.
City announced Monday that Guardiola will take over as manager on a three-year contract starting next season, furthering the English team’s goal to become the dominant force in Europe.
Guardiola will replace Manuel Pellegrini, who — minutes before City’s announcement — ended a pre-game news conference by saying he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.
The news was sudden but not unexpected.
Guardiola announced in December that he would be leaving Bayern Munich at the end of this season, after three years in charge when he enhanced his status as soccer’s most sought-after coach. Then, last month, he said his next job would be in the English Premier League.
City was always his most likely destination. Backed by Abu Dhabi cash since 2008, the club has been transformed into the most successful in England of recent times, winning two league titles and two cup competitions since 2011 and assembling an all-star squad including players like Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure.
City has tried to play the “Barcelona way,” with its attractive passing style and attacking approach, and enticed two former Barca executives — Ferran Soriano and Txiki Beguiristain — to the board in 2012.
Guardiola was considered the missing piece, and now City has its man.
“In recent weeks, (City) has commenced and finalized contractual negotiations with Pep Guardiola to become head coach for the 2016-17 EPL season onwards,” City said in a short statement. “These negotiations were a re-commencement of discussions that were curtailed in 2012.”
That was the year Guardiola quit Barcelona, after winning 14 trophies in four years as coach, and took a 12-month sabbatical. During his time off, he agreed to join Bayern for the start of the 2013-14 season and has gone on to win back-to-back German League titles, the German Cup and both the Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
City will look to Guardiola to turn the team into a European powerhouse, having failed to advance beyond the last 16 of the Champions League in four campaigns in Europe’s elite competition under Roberto Mancini and Pellegrini. City has reached the last 16 again this season, where it will play Dynamo Kiev.
Guardiola won the Champions League twice with Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona.
Pellegrini may yet go down as City’s most successful manager — he won the Premier League and League Cup in his first season in charge, in 2013, and is in contention for four trophies this season — but has had to contend with speculation about Guardiola for the past two seasons.
City extended his contract by a year, to 2017, in a bid to end the talk about Guardiola but that didn’t work.
Pellegrini said he knew “a month ago” that he was being replaced.
“There has been a lot of speculation about things,” Pellegrini said, “but they (the club) are not doing anything behind me.”
City has long lived in the shadow of neighbor Manchester United, but owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan — a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family — is changing the landscape of English soccer with his work at City.
Initially, the plan was about short-term success, as the club spent more than $1 billion to improve the squad and change its status from plucky underachiever to serial trophy winner.
The next phase came in 2014 with the opening of the club’s lavish $300 million training and player-development center — the City Football Academy.