Tuesday’s revelation that Pep Guardiola has agreed to join Bayern Munich as manager in July sent shockwaves through the footballing world. Newspapers have gone into meltdown, and the subject dominates the web at this present moment. Sam Gayton asks how certain is it that he can sow the seeds of magic in the Allianz Arena that he so carefully cultivated in his four years in Barcelona?
Were we expecting the news as soon as January? The question every football fan had wanted to know the answer to since April last year was emphatically announced yesterday evening by Bayern Munich, the current leaders of the 2012-2013 Bundesliga and German football’s largest and most prestigious club. For Bayern, this represents the largest footballing coup possible, barring someone convincing Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo that their future lies somewhere other than Spain’s warring football cities.
Understandably, there has been much fanfare and celebration in Munich following the appointment, and for good reason. In just four years of management in Catalonia, Guardiola became not only the most successful coach in Barcelona’s history, but one of the most successful coaches ever. With his team of tiki-taka talents, Guardiola won 14 trophies at the helm of Barça, and allied a ruthless winning habit with arguably the most aesthetically-pleasing football the world has ever seen.
However, as impressive as his list of talents may be, this will only be Guardiola’s second major coaching job, and one that will be markedly different from his time at the Camp Nou. While the Bayern board have been preaching the fact that both clubs have a policy of playing attractive football and are both clubs of the people, no matter how people try to dress it up as a perfect match in the manner of a struggling date-website, the reality is that there is only one club currently that will remain receptive to Guardiola’s talents and has the infrastructure to allow them to flourish: Barcelona.
When Guardiola arrived to take over Frank Rijkaard in 2008, he was returning home. A player for the Catalonion team for over 10 years, he had previously managed Barcelona B before making the step up to the first team. And in the outrageously talented team he inherited, comprising of Xavi, Iniesta, Valdés, Puyol, and the mercurial Lionel Messi, he found the perfect hotbed in which to apply his coaching methods. The players, many of whom are proud Catalonians, respected and responded to his coaching methods without question; he was one of them, a figure who deserved respect.
At Bayern, the situation is different. Yes, Guardiola is arguably the most respected and successful coach of his generation, but for a team famously branded ‘FC Hollywood’, success is by no means a barometer of subordination. Any team which comprises of the twin troubles Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben will be of concern to any manager, regardless of experience.
The differing styles of play between the two clubs may also prove a headache for Guardiola to overcome. His opening few games will be particularly revealing in answering how he will attempt to resolve the situation: will he bring in new players who will be receptive to his methods or will he carry on with the same players he has inherited? And will he try and replicate the short-passing, high-tempo game he perfected in Barcelona or look to tweak Bayern’s quick counterattacking play to suit his own means?
Whatever Guardiola’s methods will be in coaxing success out of Bayern, there is no doubt he will be as meticulous as he was during his time at the Camp Nou. Xavi, the heir to Guardiola’s midfield throne, spoke of his former manager’s relentless pursuit of perfection: ‘If Pep decided to be a musician, he would be a good musician. If he wanted to be a psychologist, he would be a good psychologist. He is obsessive; he would keep going until he got it right. He demands so much from himself. And that pressure that he puts on himself, those demands are contagious – it spreads to everyone. He wants everything to be perfect.’
At the moment, there is no doubt that Guardiola oversaw the construction of the most dominant club team in recent memory. But by leaving Barça, he has left himself open to scrutiny. Rather than try and oversee a dynasty, like Sir Alex Ferguson has done at Manchester United, he has left to try and replicate victory elsewhere, a la José Mourinho. Time will tell whether Guardiola has the credentials to be the greatest manager in history, or merely the greatest manager in Barcelona’s history. Bayern will sincerely hope it is not the latter.