Got a call from Manhattan over the festive period from a Spaniard, rather hesitant, who wanted my advice. Happens all the time, when you get to my age and stage in life.
He’s rented this apartment for a year with his wife and three young children, having decided to take a year out after four very stressful years, enjoy a sabbatical from work, think about life, what it’s all about, will my hair ever grow again, the usual manly stuff.
Listen, Josep, I said, for I usually address him by his first name though the world knows him as Pep Guardiola, what do you really want to do? Are you going back to football management or backpacking in Namibia?
And have you found yourself yet? Surely that was why you suddenly left Barcelona, at the height of your success and powers, and just disappeared?
I know every mega footer club in the world has been knocking at your door, showing their knickers, giving little twirls, flashing their assets, screaming take me, take me, take me.
“I ain’t decided nuttin’ yet,” he replied, with a faint New Yorker twang.
I had a sabbatical at roughly his age (he turns 42 this month), no hold on, a bit younger, as my children had not even started primary school. We spent a year abroad, in Gozo and Portugal. The worst thing was socialising with Brit expats, the sort you would run a mile from in Blighty.
The best thing was – having done it, I got it out of my system early doors, so it didn’t hang over me as a daft fantasy for the rest of my life.
I like that you have chosen to hunker down in New York. Very sensible. I am sure you have not been pestered and papped, as in Europe.
Must be easy to walk around unrecognised, especially in that hoodie and rucksack. Yes, I saw the snaps. Bit old for that, don’t you think? Is this not just a desperate attempt to stay young, avoid responsibilities?
I did worry about you at Barça. That sudden hair loss was alarming. And you began to look so depressed. It had clearly become a burden and yet there you were, winning 14 trophies for Barça in four years.
It was clear to me part of your problem was mental. Not on your head, son, but in your head. Perhaps another reason for Manhattan is the therapists?
Plus, of course, the language. Perfecting your English now, for you and the missus and the kiddos, will give you options, if you ever choose to come to England – but more about that in a mo.
Obviously you have no wish to be as extrovert and arrogant and self-obsessed and, yes, bloody brilliant but mad like your dear colleague José Mourinho, but unless you are settled in your head, there is little point in returning to the front line.
Right, so where should it be?
Barcelona: that is being suggested, as your successor, Vilanova, is ill and you do feel a responsibility and, I am sure, a love for the club, in your home region, where you spent so long. But don’t do it, Pep. Remember why you left? It drove you potty. Done that. Move on.
Real Madrid: don’t dismiss it idly. José is bound to depart in a huff any moment and they do have some excellent players. They are so underachieving this season that it would be fun to make them rise again. Always best to take over a club in that position. Obviously, from your background, they are your natural enemies, the scum – whatever the Spanish is for scum. Hmm, I suppose yeah, forget it.
Italy: you did spend two seasons there – at Brescia and Roma –when you were winding down your career, so you have some knowledge and language, but the Italian league is not what it was. The fans and the owners would drive you mad.
Manchester United: taking over from a legend is always hard and history shows that when it does happen, the next two or three managers don’t last long.
Manchester City: good time to take over, make them a team, but flaky owners. Anyway, would you and the family want to live in Manchester? Think on, Pep.
Chelsea: no one in their right mind would go there – not someone sensible, sensitive, already rich and decorated, like your good self.
Arsenal: a much better bet. Taking over would be easy, as I’m sure Arsène would gracefully glide out and they wouldn’t mess you around. They are desperate for former glories –which you could provide.
Bayern Munich: probably the best club in the best football country to work in at present – so well run, civilised. Only problem is they are already top dog.
Let me know what you decide, Pep. And good luck.