How good is Pep Guardiola? Surely anyone could have won with Barcelona...
Yes, he is pretty special, but he has achieved so much by the age of 42 that anything less than immediate and stunning success at Bayern Munich will be viewed as a failure
Friday 18 January 2013
When asked about Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich, his successor at Barcelona, Tito Vilanova, said on Wednesday night: "When you are at your home club, it's different."
He was answering the question: why has Guardiola signed for three years when he would only ever sign for one at the Nou Camp? The answer fits a variety of other questions surrounding his appointment and his ability to repeat the Barcelona successes elsewhere.
Thanks to Vilanova, Barcelona are not missing Guardiola. Will he be missing them come the middle of next season, exposed as having been a mere cog in the Barcelona machine and out of place in Germany?
The former Barcelona player and Germany international Bernd Schuster has already pointed out the perils of having the three most powerful and influential men in the club's history watching your every move at Bayern. And Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Höness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge aside, there are other obstacles to overcome.
The former Bayern captain and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, while approving of the appointment, has already asked the question: "At Barcelona, Guardiola was very successful, but the philosophy is well established there; you have to ask if it can work as well at a different club."
The bad news for English football is that it probably can, because Guardiola has chosen the club where he is least likely to fail. Rather than mourn his decision to go elsewhere, fans in England might instead fear the consequences of him going to a club with everything in place to dominate European football, along with Barcelona, for the foreseeable future.
Winning 14 trophies from a possible 19 – as he did during his four years in charge at Barcelona – will be hard to match, and his predecessor Johan Cruyff spoke about how difficult the next step would be when he said: "I was lucky, when I left Barcelona I only had 10 years or so ahead of me, he has the best part of his career still to go, in which he will have to live up to what he has achieved at Barcelona."
But those who believe that any fool could have led the 2008 team he inherited to 14 trophies in the following four seasons never saw the Barcelona side of the 2007-08 campaign – bloated by ego and slowed by past glories.
Guardiola took the big decisions: getting rid of Ronaldinho and Deco; signing a world-class attacking full-back in Dani Alves to offer an element of surprise to the merry-go-round passing that had become predictable; playing Andres Iniesta every week; adding the ferocious pressing game that was then more akin to the Premier League; and, a season or so later, moving Lionel Messi to centre-forward. They are all choices that look obvious now, but none of them was at the time.
Bayern will need no such revolution. They are nine points clear of the field and well on course to win the league. Guardiola feels the squad they have at the moment is second only to Barcelona's in Europe and, with an average age of 24, it is also one of the youngest.
They spent €70m (£59m) last summer and Rummenigge confirmed today that Guardiola would be given a couple more reinforcements this summer.
The decision to shun the riches of the Premier League's two wealthiest clubs – Manchester City and Cheslea – has been seen as Guardiola taking the moral high ground. But Bayern, with significant backing from Audi and Adidas, are hardly the romantics of the German league. The decision is shrewd more than principled.
It has also been suggested that somehow he is running from Jose Mourinho. Not being asked about him in every press conference might be a relief, but this move will mean taking on his rival – going somewhere he could begin to eclipse the Special One's trophy haul.
Guardiola saw in Manchester City's failings in Europe that they are still some way from having 23 players who could win the Champions League. Bayern were only penalty-kicks away last season.
He witnessed Chelsea spend last summer, recruiting players that would fit his appointment but there is a sensible solidity, grounded in football, at Bayern, with sporting director Matthias Sammer, president Höness, chief executive Rummenigge and honorary president Beckenbauer. It's a support system that contrasts starkly with the unholy trinity of director Eugene Tenenbaum, chief executive Ron Gourlay and technical director Michael Emenalo at Chelsea.
There are question marks and worries for Guardiola, however. Barcelona have just broken their record for points accumulated in the first half of the season – without Guardiola. And it is true that last season, as he tampered with the team as if to prove to himself that it, and therefore he, had reached the end of a cycle – there was Champions League failure against Chelsea.
And there is a potential nightmare scenario at his new club. Jupp Heynckes could do so well in what is left of his tenure that only a stunning Champions League triumph in Guardiola's first season would be classed as an improvement on his predecessor.
Despite having aready started learning German and having Spanish speakers around him in players such as Javi Martinez and Mario Gomez – as well as his close friend Manuel Estiarte (the former Spanish water polo Olympic champion who never left his side at Barcelona and who will travel to Germany with him) – he will still struggle for quickfire words of inspiration in the native tongue of his new dressing room.
Guardiola could err when picking his No 2 as Jürgen Klinsmann did in selecting Martin Vasquez in his ill-fated short reign as Bayern coach in 2008. He may fail to teach goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to play as well with his feet as Victor Valdes does at the Nou Camp. And Barcelona supporters have mused that he will never teach Arjen Robben to lift his head and pass. Messi covers a multitude of any manager's sins and will obviously be missed.
But every hurdle Guardiola faces will be lower to the ground than it would have been in the ultra-competitive Premier League.
In some ways, the man who celebrates his 42nd birthday today has paid English football a compliment by cutting his teeth at a club that resembles his own in a league he is almost guaranteed to dominate – so delaying coming to England until he has proved he can win without home comforts.
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