Saturday, 5 April 2008

The race to the bench: Guardiola takes Mourinho's pole (1)

This week there was a sudden and quite drastic turn-around in the race to next season's Barcelona bench. While former Chelsea manager José Mourinho (45) has been the top candidate since the beginning of this year, Barcelona B manager Josep Guardiola (37) seems now to to have taken over his position.

Everything began after last Saturday's defeat against Betis Sevilla and the subsequent rumours about an early exit of current Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard (45), with Guardiola then coming forward as the only possible emergency solution to replace Rijkaard until the end of the season (read more here and here). This scenario seems nevertheless history after the away win against Schalke 04 in the quarter finals of the Champions League.

But on Wednesday Guardiola turned from a possible temporary solution into a possible definitive solution when Catalan television station TV3 claimed that the Barcelona board would have decided not to go on with Rijkaard and that Barcelona president Joan Laporta had approved the proposal of Barcelona sports director Txiki Begiristain to appoint Josep Guardiola as his successor. Guardiola would be assisted by his current assistent Tito Vilanova and by former Barcelona player Luis Enrique.

Only a few hours later, Barcelona took the very unusual initiative to release an official statement denying the rumour: "FC Barcelona denies categorically that the club would have decided to replace manager Frank Rijkaard next season. The Dutch coach has a contract until the year 2009 and the board of directors has total confidence in him."

What is very clear for most Barcelona insiders is that Barcelona president Joan Laporta is still holding on to Rijkaard. The president would like to finish his term with the manager he started with back in 2003 (read more here). If Barcelona would win the Champions League (or who knows, the Liga), there would be no doubt and Rijkaard would start in the summer his sixth season as Barcelona head coach.

(this is the first part of this contribution, the second part will be published tomorrow, the third part on Monday)

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