It had been rumored so widely for so long that it felt like it was already a fait accompli. But on Monday, Manchester City announced that Pep Guardiola would become its manager next season anyway, making things official.
"Manchester City can confirm that in recent weeks it has commenced and finalized contractual negotiations with Pep Guardiola to become MCFC Head Coach for the 16/17 EPL season onwards," the club said in a statement. "The contract is for three years. These negotiations were a re-commencement of discussions that were curtailed in 2012."
So at long last, City got its man.
The hiring, a full four months before the present season is even over, feels like the completion of Man City’s long construction project. Ever since it was bought up by its owners from Abu Dhabi in 2008, the club has painstakingly set about remaking itself into an elite professional sports club. It began by signing the best possible players, for absurdly inflated transfer fees. There were a lot of misfires at first – Remember Robinho? And Jo? And Emmanuel Adebayor? And Roque Santa Cruz? – but they eventually figured out how to play that high-stakes game.
Then, more quietly, came the top executives and best-qualified backroom staff – many of them from Barcelona like CEO Ferran Soriano, Director of Football Txiki Begiristain and Global Technical Director Rodolfo Borrell, who hoped to source their manager from their old Catalan club as well. The ambition was next injected into the youth academy, which began signing the brightest prospects in Europe. The facilities got an upgrade. Satellite clubs were bought or launched in New York City, Japan and Australia. And now, at length, the desired head coach has been found, after he spurned the club upon leaving Barca in 2012 and taking the Bayern Munich job following a year-long sabbatical.
This feels like the culmination of City’s well-funded power grab. And it seems particularly significant that it won the race to sign Pep over slowly decaying cross-town juggernauts Manchester United and equally cash-rich Chelsea. The club has certainly employed respected managers before, but none that were considered at the very top of the game at that point. Whereas players were easily swayed by the big money, the upper crust of managers wasn’t so easily purchased with a blank check.
Even Roberto Mancini, who led the club to its first league title since 1968 in the nail-biting 2011-12 season, had been unemployed for a year upon his appointment, after failing to compete in the Champions League with Inter Milan. Manuel Pellegrini, who will keep the seat toasty until Guardiola’s arrival in the summer, was widely respected and had done well with Villarreal and Malaga and well enough in a year with Real Madrid, but had never won anything.
Guardiola is the sort of manager preciously unavailable to the nouveaux riches, the kind who only signed with the Barcas and Bayerns of the world. And, until recently, with the Manchester Uniteds and their ilk. They were the reserved for the truly privileged, old money, 1 percent of clubs.
Because the man is as much a phenomenon as he is a manager, having won nine major trophies in four seasons with Barcelona (three La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys, two Champions Leagues, two Club World Cups) and four more in two completed seasons with Bayern (two Bundesliga titles, a DFB-Pokal and the Club World Cup) to which he could add another three before the season is out.
Man City’s rapid ascent into the sport’s rarified atmosphere is unprecedented. You might argue that Lazio did it in the late '90s and early '00s, and the Chelsea of the last decade replicated it, a model that was then copied by Paris Saint-Germain. But those were already big clubs that just got bigger – until the bottom fell out at Lazio, anyway. You could even point to Malaga as a mediocre top-tier club similar to City that quickly rose the ranks – under Pellegrini, no less – but that team has since fallen off as the money has dried up.
No, to fashion a world-class club out of a previously pedestrian one – City had won just nine major trophies in 128 years before Abu Dhabi bought it out – and then demonstrating staying power, with two Premier League titles in the last four seasons and the chance of another one this year, is a unique accomplishment. It underscores that money can now truly buy anything in soccer. Even its most fawned-over manager.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.