Out they come, the bloodthirsty hoards: Europeans of all origins queuing up at the door of the Sabener Strasse, baying for the corpse. Bring out your dead, Pep. Tiki-taka is no more. Long live…well, something else, I guess.
Bayern’s dismemberment at the hands of Spanish guerrillas has allegedly killed the reputations of both themselves and their coach. Their failure to blow Europe away as they did last year has, we are told, exposed an inherent frailty in their philosophy. Tiki-taka has been sussed. Forever.
Logic would suggest otherwise. Logic would suggest that Guardiola’s passing tactic is just that: a tactic. When it works, it is both ruthlessly efficient and (to many people’s tastes, if not everyone’s) thoroughly entertaining. When it doesn’t work, it is breakable.
This season has seen both ends of the spectrum for Pep’s Bayern. At times, they have looked as if they were born to tiki-taka. They have been unstoppable, indefinable, ravishing. But the marriage has been wobbly. Particularly in the Champions League, they have failed to apply Guardiola’s philosophy at the required level, and they have eventually been punished.
Back in August, cockiness reigned. Bayern had just won the treble, and Germany itself was still dragging idly on a Gitane in the afterglow of the Champions League Final. Reinhard Rauball even got a bout of Scudamore-itis, and declared the Bundesliga the Best in the World.
Pep’s arrival did not ease matters, with most of the continent predicting that all opponents would simply faint at the sight of Bayern’s red shirts, and Guardiola and co would sweep up every trophy possible.
In the case of the Bundesliga, most teams did, in fact do that. Only a handful of coaches – Thomas Tuchel among them, Jurgen Klopp not – openly backed their team to beat Bayern, and sure enough, almost everyone rolled over dutifully. It is little wonder that, by the time they won the title in March, even Bayern’s most diplomatic pragmatists were ceasing to believe their own rubbish about “respecting every opponent”.
Normally, those periods of complacency come in mid season. This time, Bayern got the self-adoring yips too late. Add to that the hammer blow of Uli Hoeness’ prison sentence, and you have a psychological nightmare. Franck Ribéry was the most ostensibly demoralised player in the last few months, but it has not affected only him.
But to Pep: for Bayern’s issues are not just psychological. The ever-controversial policy of rotation has not worked consistently enough for Guardiola this year, and has arguably created more disturbances than it has effortless flexibility.
On the field, the team have often struggled with the final ball. Tiki-Taka, for all it’s painstaking build up, relies on change of pace at the last. Whether that be with a through ball or a darting one-two, it is the sudden tearing apart of the gap which is so lethal. Bayern have not done that. Too often they have resorted to crossing, the clearest sign that – particularly when under pressure – they are not quite yet comfortable with Guardiola’s philosophy.
That does not mean, however, that Guardiola has failed. Nor that Bayern will not improve. The Catalonian has been insisting all season that there is room for betterment. Until recently, he has been ignored. Now he is deemed to have failed.
But that is not fair. Bayern have shown on enough occasions this season that they can play the Guardiola way. They have shown that when they do so, they are even better than they were last season. The trick now is to make it second nature.
It is worth mentioning, meanwhile, that Guardiola is not as pig-headed as some would have him be. That he relies on one philosophy is testament to how successful that philosophy has been for him. The idea that he cannot and does not seek to adapt is ludicrous.
After Bayern had thrashed Werder Bremen 7-0 last autumn, Guardiola was led through the mixed zone by Bayern’s press officer Markus Horwick. Both were hurried, wishing to get past the print press as quickly as possible. But then Guardiola stopped directly in front of the waiting Dictaphones. Not to talk, but because his eye had been caught by a TV screen on the wall. He stood, rooted to the spot, and watched it for several minutes, barely a muscle moving. It was the highlights of Hamburg versus Augsburg.
The man lives and breathes football. He is perpetually looking for ways to beat the next opponent, whether he is riding the wave of success or has been humiliated as he was last week. This setback is not the end of Pep, and it is not the end of Bayern. It exposes the problems that his arrival has brought with it, certainly, but it also exposes our own fickle judgments.
We expected, and still expect him, to be faultless. But even at Barca, he was not that. When Jose Mourinho outfoxed him with Inter in 2010, it was not the end of tiki-taka. Nor will it be this time around. It is simply proof that one system cannot rule football. And thank God for that.
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