Pep Guardiola won everything in play with Barcelona. Barca won 14 titles between 2009 and 2011, a stunning achievement in this day and age. But for a team of special players in their prime nothing less than perfection was acceptable. While Guardiola met the club’s sky high expectations with a phenomenal group of players and several shining stars in Xavi, Iniesta, Dani Alves and Messi, his real triumph perhaps was maintaining for so long a performance consistency and extra-ordinary level of play that confirmed Barca the greatest club of all time. Impressive by any measure.
Barca became the greatest global attraction over the past decade, a show unlike any other, not to be missed. Guardiola’s merit rests not only in creating an excellent system that enabled every player to perform at his best, but also to keep the system intact and above any one star. He let Samuel Eto’o go while still very much in his prime and he gave up on Ibra after only one year, but he always found the right combination to sustain a technical system without comparison. Like Spain recently, Barca kept so much possession that their dominance became boring at times.
Guardiola stepped away from the limelight at the zenith of his career, a young man at 40 with every opportunity available ahead. With a year of low profile, rest and recuperation away from the hottest seat in the world, Guardiola was frequently linked as a possible successor to one of the big English clubs. Yet the timing was not right with Man United, the Chelsea post would have drawn inevitable comparisons with Mourinho, Man City made a huge mistake in keeping Mancini instead of making every effort possible for Guardiola and Arsenal belongs to Wenger. PSG tried but settled for Ancelotti. So it was curious that Guardiola chose to go to Germany.
After Guardiola was introduced as Bayern’s next manager, the Bavarians went on to have the dream treble season, winning the domestic league and cup, as well as the elusive Champions League after reaching the final in three of the past four years. Guardiola can only match, but hardly exceed last season’s accolades. With a wolfpack of technical directors scrutinizing his every move (Dieter Hoeness, Rummenigge, Mathias Sammer and even the Kaiser), Guardiola must feel the full force of the challenge. He seems to have won the trust of the players, but Bayern is not flying yet and the critique has already begun. Sammer called Guardiola’s brand of football “lackluster” last week.
If he wins, the criticisms will taper off. But Guardiola is under enormous pressure to deliver. One thing he will definitely be vilified for is buying Thiago from Barca for 20 million euros, a steep price for a still developing young player who was never going to find enough time at Barca and who plays slow, like Guardiola did as a player. Letting Gustavo go at the same time was probably a big mistake, but only time will tell.
Culture is a very delicate matter in Germany, especially at Bayern who regards itself as the emblematic club of the country. Not since Giovanni Trapattoni left Italy to take the reign in Munich did the Bavarians have a Mediterranean man in charge, but while Trapattoni was called “the German” in Italy, Guardiola’s soul is very much Iberian. Taking into account all of the conditions at the club, unless he is able to replicate Barca’s playing style in Munich there is no more than a 50% chance of him being in charge beyond this season even if he does ok.
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