The news that the most coveted coach in world football has chosen to join Bayern Munich confirmed Chelsea's worst fears
There was no frustrated gnashing of teeth from those in the boardroom at Stamford Bridge as news filtered through from Munich that the most coveted coach in world football was Bavaria-bound. That might sound surprising, given that Roman Abramovich had twice recently asked Pep Guardiola to name his price to bring all that pizzazz for which his Barcelona team were renowned to this corner of south-west London.
Yet as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge did his distant jig of delight and Bayern understandably basked in quite a coup, not least for the status of the Bundesliga, Chelsea merely shrugged. How else could they react, given they had seen this coming? Admittedly they might have anticipated Guardiola popping up at Manchester City rather than in Germany, particularly with the former Barça technical director Txiki Begiristain installed as the director of football at the Etihad and the chief executive, Ferran Soriano, another to have worked at Camp Nou. But City's faith in Roberto Mancini is apparently unswerving and the Spaniard has opted for Germany. Regardless, Chelsea had feared for some time they were not an option.
Twice their hierarchy had sounded him out, in the wake of André Villas-Boas's dismissal last March and again when they resumed their search for a permanent manager after the eye-catching European Cup triumph at Bayern's expense in May. On each occasion Guardiola had made it clear he was intent on seeing out a year-long sabbatical before resuming his career – a stance he has maintained by accepting the Bayern job from 1 July – for all the millions on offer. "Bayern weren't the team which offered the most money," said the Spaniard's agent, Josep Maria Orobitg. He would not be seduced.
It was back in March and early June that Chelsea first realised they might not get their wish. Guardiola represented the ideal, a manager who had coaxed such glorious attacking football while at Barcelona and allied it with almost constant success – 13 trophies in four years – albeit while benefiting from a team that included Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández, players who had been developed through the Catalans' youth system. Chelsea have had to recruit the vast majority of their best from outside. While their eagerness to lure the Spaniard to London was clear, at some stage back then the Londoners would have been fed the line, offered up to the Football Association for Wednesday's launch of its 150th anniversary celebrations, that Guardiola does want to work in the Premier League.
For now England and Chelsea will have to wait, presumably until 2016. The board will have mulled over why their advances were spurned. Perhaps working for a club that has shed seven full-time managers in eight years had put Guardiola off. How could there be any notion of a long-term project amid such constant job insecurity? Even figures within the Chelsea hierarchy have privately acknowledged the turnover in managers might put some candidates off, for all that Abramovich apparently craves a level of stability in the dugout. At least there is recognition that the upheaval of recent years has been destabilising.
But, while Chelsea had reluctantly accepted they would most likely fail in their pursuit of Abramovich's ideal candidate, they must still address what follows Rafael Benítez's interim stewardship. The Spaniard would still hope to recover enough success from a season of near-misses to earn himself consideration for the position, even if the local support will clearly never accept him in the role. Whether the club can endure the discontent that has spilled over regularly in recent weeks beyond the end of the season is doubtful.
Then there is José Mourinho, Abramovich's first appointment and the man who returned the Premier League title to Stamford Bridge before a schism with the owner that has only recently been repaired. Their relationship is stronger now – distance can heal – and it is not quite as unthinkable as it once was that the Portuguese could return. His future at Real Madrid is in doubt but, with Guardiola removed, there could be high-profile suitors for Mourinho's signature. City may insist they are happy with Mancini, even if he cannot retain the title, but will Paris St-Germain forgive Carlo Ancelotti failure to claim Ligue 1? And might there be upheaval at Manchester United or Arsenal to come?
Chelsea will really start considering their next move only once the January transfer window has closed, with approaches likely to be instigated in the summer once Benítez's deal expires. They will have a better idea of the lie of the land then but there is already admiration building for alternatives. Michael Laudrup's impact at Swansea, and status in the game, has been noted. He will be even harder to ignore if Chelsea are eliminated from the Capital One Cup at the semi-final stage at the Liberty Stadium next Wednesday. The Dane is in the first season of a two-year contract and, to date, can do no wrong.
Then there is Diego Simeone, whose Europa League winners, Atlético Madrid, so embarrassed the European champions in the Super Cup in Monaco in August; or Jürgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, who topped a daunting Champions League group before Christmas having held off Bayern to win successive Bundesliga titles. These are some of the names Abramovich and his advisers must now consider. They had feared for a while their interest in Guardiola would come to nothing. A search for alternatives awaits.