December is usually a nervy time for managers and coaches of under-performing football teams across Europe, as club owners ponder decisive changes ahead of the new transfer window.
While most sackings tend to come at smaller sides struggling to keep their place in the top divisions, the past few days’ machinations have involved some of the biggest names in the game.
First, English Premier League champion Chelsea axed Jose Mourinho on Thursday, and replaced him with Guus Hiddink as interim manager on Saturday.
On Sunday, German titleholder Bayern Munich announced that its former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola will stand down at the end of this season and be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti, who has won a legion of trophies at AC Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
Guardiola, already the highest-paid coach in football, was reportedly offered a new deal by Bayern worth €20 million ($21.7 million) per year.
“Carlo is a calm, balanced expert, who knows how to deal with stars and favors a multifaceted style of play — we were looking for this, and we have found it,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said in a statement.
Ancelotti, 56, has been out of work since being rewarded with the sack after ending Real Madrid’s long wait for a 10th European crown in 2014.
He has agreed a three-year contract to take over from Guardiola, who won the German Bundesliga title in his first two seasons at Bayern and has taken the Bavarians to an eight-point lead heading into the winter break following Saturday’s 1-0 win at Hannover.
“We are grateful to Pep Guardiola for everything he has given our club since 2013. I am convinced that Pep and our team will now work even more intensively towards achieving our major sporting goals — especially as it is now confirmed that Pep is to leave FC Bayern,” Rummenigge added.
The most obvious item on the Spaniard’s agenda will be Champions League glory. He has suffered crushing semifinal defeats in the past two seasons against the teams that went on to lift the trophy, Real and Barcelona.
Bayern won Europe’s top competition the season before he arrived, under Jupp Heynckes, so his tenure will be judged under those formidable expectations.
Bayern next faces last season’s runner-up Juventus in the last 16, with the first leg on February 23.
Guardiola, who in December 2009 guided Barcelona to its sixth trophy of that calendar year with success at the Club World Cup, is widely tipped to join one of England’s top clubs.
The 44-year-old was courted by Manchester City before he took the Bayern job, while Chelsea — whose billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has long been an admirer — will be looking to make a full-time appointment when Hiddink’s second stint as interim manager finishes at the end of this season.
Manchester United could also be in the market, with Louis van Gaal under increasing pressure to keep his job.
The veteran Dutchman is contracted until the end of 2016-17, but he has won few fans with United’s staid style of play.
Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at home to lowly Norwich meant the 20-time English champion dropped out of the top four in the EPL table, having exited the Champions League this month at the group stage.
Meanwhile, Barcelona won the Club World Cup for the third time Sunday, beating Argentina’s River Plate 3-0 in the final in Yokohama, Japan.
Lionel Messi and Neymar returned after missing the semifinal, and combined with fellow South American striking star Luis Suarez to add to the Spanish club’s 2009 and 2011 successes.
Suarez followed up his hat-trick against China’s Guangzhou Evergrande with two more goals, while Neymar had two assists including Messi’s opener.