Arsenal and Manchester United will rue day they didn't sign Pep Guardiola
Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City. There's something about Pep Guardiola's career progression that doesn't feel right. Shouldn't it have been reversed?
Signing up Guardiola is a major coup for City. On Europe's top tables, there's still a sense that they are the new kids on the block. They need to change the notion that they are flashy upstarts. Acquiring the most sought-after manager in the business will have as much impact on their reputation as winning a Champions League. At least in the short term.
City have seized their opportunity. Others missed a chance.
When Guardiola left Barca in 2012 and took a sabbatical from the game, he made it clear he intended to return to coaching. He spoke to friends about potential clubs. The same three names kept cropping up: Bayern, Arsenal and Manchester United. The proud history of these institutions has a massive appeal.
When the 45-year-old accepted the job in Munich about three years ago, it appeared to be the only option. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger seemed immovable forces at United and Arsenal respectively. Little did Guardiola know that the manager's chair at Old Trafford would unexpectedly become available within weeks. Had the timing been different, the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal eras might never have happened.
United should have been in pole position in this season's version of the Pep beauty contest. The club is enormously wealthy, has the sort of heritage that appeals to the football historian in Guardiola, and Old Trafford seems a more suitable stage than the Etihad.
But the chaos and confusion around United would put anyone off. Van Gaal is floundering, Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, seems bewildered and unable to make decisions and Jose Mourinho is lurking in the background hoping to take advantage of the mayhem. No wonder Guardiola swerved the madhouse and took the sensible option across town.
Arsenal presented a more complex but no less intractable situation. Stability is the watchword at the Emirates and Wenger is the supreme leader.
North London is the most obvious fit for Guardiola. His style would have suited the club. Wenger was never going to step aside for any successor, however. At 66, the Arsenal manager is reaching the time of life when people in most professions slow down. Not football managers.
Missing out on Guardiola will cause little consternation at the Emirates. They will greet the news of City's big signing with a shrug. The only problem is that there is little planning for the future at Arsenal. The experience of United should forewarn the North London club about what happens when a successful dictator suddenly leaves.
Wenger was never going to pass the baton to anyone. He will have no regrets whatever the future brings. The same might not be true of the Arsenal board and fans.
Timing is crucial again. Guardiola needs to be in the Premier League next season. He cannot wait for Wenger to step aside. The effect of the new television deal will be to make the English top flight staggeringly wealthy. Only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain -- none of whom appeal to Guardiola -- will be able to compete with the Premier League's financial firepower. There will be an influx of top managerial and playing talent to England. This is not the time to allow rivals to pick up big jobs.
City may not be a club that Guardiola grew up admiring, but they have plenty going for them. They are well-run and extremely forward-looking. Everything at the Etihad is geared to competing at the very highest level. The acquisition of Guardiola is another statement of intent.
This is a move that puts City on the map. If their new manager can apply his methods successfully in the Premier League, this could be the beginning of a seismic shift in the English game.
Guardiola's career path could look less surprising in five years. And United and Arsenal may rue the day they let this happen.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC and is former football editor of The Times. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.