Rafa Benitez’s chances of being appointed Chelsea manager on a permanent basis were dealt yet another blow tonight as his team dropped two points at home in the Premier League to Southampton, on the day that Pep Guardiola again rejected a future at Stamford Bridge.
The worst fears of the Chelsea hierarchy were confirmed when Guardiola agreed a three-year contract to take over at Bayern Munich from next season, a bad day for the club made worse by a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton in which the away side came back from two goals down.
Benitez's team are now 13 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United and the club's interim first-team coach was booed off again by hostile fans at Stamford Bridge. Asked about Guardiola's decision tonight, Benitez said: "It's fine for him. He deserves to go there. No, it's not a surprise." When it was put to him that it was one less candidate for the job, he replied: "My job is to get three points against Arsenal."
The reigning European champions had long suspected that their protracted attempts to appoint Guardiola would end in failure, but even so they were not aware that today's announcement from Germany was coming. The deal between Bayern and Guardiola has been in the making since before Christmas.
For some at Chelsea it even came as a relief that they could now put aside their long-term pursuit of the coach and begin planning for a future that does not include Guardiola. Yet it is unlikely to change Benitez's position.
The club's understanding with Benitez is that he should treat Chelsea as a long-term project, in the event that his deal, which lasts until June, is renewed in the summer, but also to accept that the nature of that contract reflects the club's desire to review the situation at the end of the season.
Guardiola has long been first choice for Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, who has made clear his desire to have the Spanish coach in place. The club tried to appoint him in the summer after Roberto Di Matteo's Champions League success, and again in November when they dismissed the Italian.
Chelsea do not feel they could have done much more to persuade Guardiola to come to Stamford Bridge, but the mood at the club today was that they have won Europe's biggest prizes without Guardiola in charge and that one man alone would not be critical to them repeating that success.
Guardiola's decision also rules out any possibility of him succeeding Roberto Mancini at Manchester City this summer, had the Premier League champions decided to make a change. Certainly, the appointment of Ferran Soriano as City's chief executive and Txiki Begiristain as director of football – both are former Barcelona executives – pointed to that possibility.
Guardiola will take over at the end of the season from Jupp Heynckes, the 67-year-old whose team is nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga after 17 games and who had always planned to retire at the end of the season. The Bayern chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, said: "Pep Guardiola is one of the most successful coaches in the world and we are sure that he can make not just Bayern, but all of German football shine."
From a more long-term perspective, refusing Chelsea and City does mean that the Manchester United job is a possibility for Guardiola when Sir Alex Ferguson finally decides to retire.
Raul's advice made sure Germany would beat England once again
It felt like losing to the Germans again when Pep Guardiola picked the Bundesliga over the Premier League. But rather than a snub for English football it was a glowing endorsement of the German game.
His close friend Raul, who spent two seasons at Schalke, helped convince him that his family would be happy in Germany and he would enjoy coaching there. The two played together for Spain, and Guardiola is famous for calling Raul "Spain's greatest-ever player". Raul sought Guardiola's advice before moving to Qatar, where the former Barcelona coach spent two years.
Raul visited Guardiola last season when he was in Germany for a Champions League game against Leverkusen. The two spoke about the many benefits and few drawbacks of football in the country. Bayern is majority-owned by its supporters and likes to bring on home-grown players.
There is even speculation that Guardiola may make Raul his assistant at Bayern. However, that was dismissed by his agent, Josep Maria Orobitg, who said Guardiola agreed to join Bayern last month. He added: "Of all the teams that made offers this option was the best. It was signed before Christmas. He has chosen them because of the organisation there and the potential he sees in the players."
Pep's Pots: The trophies
Guardiola's managerial trophy haul:
1 x Tercera Division (2007-08)
3 x La Liga (2008-09, 09-10 10-11)
2 x Spanish Cup (2008-09, 11-12)
2 x Champions League (2009, 2011)
2 x Uefa Super Cup (2009, 2011)
2 x Club World Cup (2009, 2011)