Self effacing, nervous by his own admission, and at times unable to articulate in the language of his new home, Pep Guardiola cut a cautious figure at his first press conference as coach of FC Bayern.
Had you come into the room with no idea who the man was, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that this was his first major job – that this was a man tentatively starting a managerial career, not one who, at only 42 years old, is already considered to be among the greatest coaches the game has ever seen.
Except that everybody knows who Josep Guardiola is. Everybody knows that, when Bayern's press officer Markus Hörwick declared it to be "the biggest press conference in the history of this club“, it was not simple hyperbole. The underlying spirit of the entire affair, indeed, was one of mutual adulation. Guardiola was earnest and not overstated when he called it "a gift, not just to be here, but to even be considered by FC Bayern."
"There aren't many clubs in the world with a history like this one," he continued, "that history is what I'm here for."
With that, the German public had their first glimpse of the romantic ideal of Guardiola. The respect he has garnered over the years is not just down to his success, but to his character. For all who have grown tired of the Clough and Mourinho school of egocentrism in football management, Guardiola has always been a messianic figure. One whose dignity and honesty are as admirable as his remarkable success. As David Trueba put it: "underneath those expensive Italian shoes, there is a heart in espadrilles."
So good is Guardiola, that Bayern were willing to part with his predecessor, a club legend who finished his tenure by winning the treble. That in itself is enough to swell his ego a little – and rightly so – but he is not one to show it. With Jupp Heynckes, he admitted, he had not yet been in contact, but "his opinion would be great. I have a huge respect for him, not just because of last season, but because of what he has achieved throughout his career."
Aside from his natural humility, though, there was also a clear nervousness, perhaps accentuated by a still fledgling grasp of German. His opening gambit was to apologise for his linguistic shortcomings, and he promised to improve over the coming months. Though determined to speak in German himself, he was forced to use an interpreter to understand the questions, and would frequently turn to the Bayern executives around him for help with a certain word. Even in full flow, his German would sometimes be peppered with English words, to afford a little more clarity.
While he is far from native fluency, though, it is clear that his year in New York was spent wisely. His mastery of the language was arguably as good as former Bayern coach Giovanni Trapattoni's had been after two years in Munich, and he was proficient enough to joke that "I haven't seen much of Bayern because my German teacher would not allow it. She is a Dortmund fan."
Jokes aside, Guardiola was always quick to point out that he is new to the Bayern's home on the Säbener Straße. Asked whether he will have trouble adapting the players to his system, he was honest and direct:
"The system doesn't matter. Football is played by the players, not the manager, and I have to get used to the players. When a team wins four trophies in a season, you don't have to change much. That's my opinion, but of course the other guys know this team better than I do."
His is a challenge which no other manager has ever had to fulfil – taking over a a team who has just won everything they could in the previous season. But in truth, he is right. The system is not that different to what he had in Barcelona anyway. Bayern already play passing, possession based football and they already have a strong youth system, which Guardiola expressed his wish to integrate into the first team as much as possible.
Guardiola's final statement illustrated perfectly that the move from Barcelona to Munich is not a culture clash. "I love to attack," he said, "That is my idea of football."
That will suit Bayern to a tee. That is the reason for the huge smiles across the faces of Uli Hoeneß, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Matthias Sammer as they sat next to him for the first time in the Allianz Arena.Reuse content