Guardiola faces a tough task at Bayern: win, and win gracefully
As far as international triumphs go, Wednesday afternoon will have felt nearly as good as winning last May's Champions League trophy -- which they lost on penalty kicks -- would have felt like. Bayern Munich, Germany's leading club for over four decades, managed to pull off a feat that few outsiders would have found possible a few months ago: it managed to persuade Pep Guardiola, the most in-demand manager in world soccer (with apologies to José Mourinho) to take over in July 2013 on a three-year-contract.
Wednesday's announcement undoubtedly constitutes a coup for Bayern and the whole of the Bundesliga, who will see its profile rise considerably in the coming season. "The signing of Guardiola shows the value of Bayern, who want to be on par with the likes of Real Madrid or Manchester United," said Bayern's honorary president Franz Beckenbauer.
It's unnecessary to explain in too much detail why the Bavarians were so keen on the 41-year-old services. There's his CV, comprising only four years at Barcelona but featuring more trophies than most managers will win in a lifetime. The soccer Messi and Co. played under his reign came as close to perfection in both results and aesthetics as any team did in in the modern era. And he's also by all accounts -- again, with apologies to Mourinho -- one of the good guys. Bayern, who is loved and hated in equal measure in Germany, might even become a tad less objectionable to its detractors with the personable Catalan at the helm.
What's in it for Guardiola, though? The word from Spain is that he values the way Bayern is run, the buzzwords being "youth system", "stability", "owned by its members" and "sustainability". In addition, former Real Madrid great Raul, a close friend, is said to have delivered a glowing endorsement after his two seasons at Schalke 04. The money won't be bad, either of course, even if he could have earned more elsewhere. In the long run, his valuing of soccer reasons above remuneration in this case will make him only more marketable to future employers.
Guardiola will be introduced at a press conference in Munich on Friday. That event will certainly put Jupp Heynckes' briefing ahead of the match against Greuther Fürth in the shade. The timing of the announcement could have been a lot better but Bayern didn't have much choice. Firstly, a report by Sky Italia broke the news on Monday night, and the constant speculation would have had a destabilizing effect. And now that the news is out, there are too many questions that must be answered.
One of the more interesting one is: does Guardiola speak (good enough) German? There are some suggestions that he has been studying the language while on his sabbatical in New York. Alternatively, six months of preparation should really provide him with ample time to get up to scratch, and in any case, most of the team either understands English or Spanish.
The identity of his assistant could be another key factor. Raul has been mentioned, along with former Bayern midfielder Stefan Effenberg, who played with Guardiola in Qatar. His former number two at the Camp Nou, Tito Vilanova is not available, so it's anyone's guess who Guardiola will bring with him. Bayern will certainly push for one or two of Heynckes' staff members to be retained, in order to ensure a smooth transition and avoid a Klinsmann scenario. The USMNT coach arrived with Martin Vasquez as his right hand man but Vasquez's inexperience proved telling at that level.
Bayern's playing style is unlikely to change significantly. Heynckes spent his first year adding an element of defensive realism to Louis van Gaal's dogmatic possession soccer. In his second season, the veteran coach has taken a leaf out of Dortmund's book by introducing "Gegenpressing", the concept of pressing high up the pith after losing the ball. The end result looks not too dissimilar to Barca under Pep, albeit on a less accomplished level and without a certain Lionel Messi.
One could say success will be virtually guaranteed, since Bayern has only one big rival, Dortmund. That is true but overlooks just how good Jürgen Klopp's team has become and that Guardiola's ultimate task couldn't be more daunting. He is supposed to replicate what he's achieved in Catalonia: to take a very good team and make it the best one in the world, with all the trophies that go with it.