BY ALEX LEONARD
After a record-breaking, treble-winning season, it should be nigh on impossible for Bayern Munich’s year to get any better; there is, if any at all, minuscule room for improvement. Although, as every fan of football knows, miracles do happen, and success can in fact be built upon when the odds are stacked against such an act.
Bayern Munich’s potential improvement comes in the form of a certain man, sent from the football heavens, a man who world football has missed considerably over the last season. A slim, suited figure with a famously charismatic presence, his appearances in front of an audience have been limited and treasured over the last 12 months, and any public sightings of him have been photographed, documented and circulated.
Pep Guardiola has been little more than an enigma since his voyage with Barcelona came to an end last May – the Catalan stepped ashore, leaving a fairy tale adventure behind, and disappeared into a crowd, off to experience life for a year as a mere mortal, away from the external pressures football brings.
A rare video of him would appear on the Internet, or he would emerge from the shadows for a brief moment at a glittering event; most of the time, however, Guardiola has simply been the word on people’s lips, or printed text in newspapers. Even when he was announced as Jupp Heynckes’ successor in January, he made no song or dance about it; the media did that for him.
Partly, this is because the Spaniard is renowned for being so humble, often preferring his football to do the talking rather than his own choice of words. However, words were what he had to use on Monday; and, as expected, they were spoken in German.
His first press conference as the head coach of Bayern Munich did not have to be very long, as it was heavily laden with carefully chosen, persuasive words, aimed at winning over the German press. And it is worth knowing that Pep Guardiola is very good at winning, had you not realised already.
As a result of his entrance, Guardiola was greeted by an orchestra of camera shutters being repeatedly and obsessively snapped shut, as over 250 journalists and reporters forced themselves inside the Allianz Arena to witness Barcelona’s saviour share precious words with the world, flanked by Bayern’s hierarchical threesome of club president Uli Hoeneß, chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and sporting director Matthias Sammer. “Please forgive my German,” the Catalan modestly began, “I lived in New York last year – not the ideal place to learn.”
What ensued was a captivating press conference that revealed Guardiola was being rather hard on himself; his German was fluent and exceptional. He looked every part the head coach of Bayern Munich, as his calm nature and professionalism drew those around him into a state of awe, something he has easily done on the past.
However, the press conference switched to a serious tone with a swift alteration of topic and a newly learned German accent. When considering his approach to the job, Guardiola explained how his aim is “to change a few things, but still maintain the high level that the team has”. Therefore, while many questioned if the current superstars would buy into the 42 year-old’s philosophies, it is in fact the opposite which shall be occurring; he shall be building on what has made Bayern Munich successful, as he mentioned on Monday. Not the other way around.
This willingness to adapt is what will make the Catalan a better coach as he moves from club to club. He may be likely to implement a high-pressing game into Bayern’s style, as well as adding a few other traits, however he has been watching the Germans’ matches while in New York for a reason: bar the odd correction, he shall be taking the old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to his coaching of the Bundesliga champions once pre-season kicks in.
Despite his solitary portrayal, the Catalan has never and will never succeed on his own. Once he is consistently back out on the training ground and spending hours in his office, support is integral; he always needs his coaching team in the background, his own personal set of shadows to follow him wherever he goes, sharing the same thoughts and determination, and always being on the same wavelength.
Domènec Torrent and Carles Planchart have assisted Pep from the depths of Spanish football in 2007, when he took charge of Barça B and won promotion to the second tier, and it makes perfect sense for him to hire them for his tenure at Munich considering they were constantly in the background at the Camp Nou. While Planchart shall analyse opposing teams, Torrent will act as Guardiola’s assistant alongside Hermann Gerland, a familiar face at the Bavarian club since 2001 as coach of the B team. His experience and knowledge is what Guardiola shall turn to when considering the development of Bayern’s youth system and integrating the academy’s players into the first team, a sustainable tactic which paid off at Barcelona.
Lorenzo Buenaventura was brought to Catalonia by Guardiola in 2008 as the first team’s fitness coach and subsequently shaped Europe’s most wondrously persistent team by conditioning the squad into intense pressers of the ball, an integral tactic of Pep’s Barcelona that will likely be seen in Bayern’s play over the next few years.
Manuel Estiarte, an Olympian who won a gold medal for water-polo, is a close personal friend of Guardiola and will become a known face at the club. Estiarte has been immensely supportive for the 42 year-old in the past, especially when the Catalan underwent a traumatic ordeal and was mistakenly banned for alleged doping in 2001, while in Italy. The suspected chemical found in Guardiola’s body was later found to be natural, and he was cleared in 2007.
It could be said that Guardiola’s plans for the near future are already planned out as near to perfect as they can be; and the manner in which he went about his first appearance as coach of Bayern Munich only supports this. There will, of course, be variables, and obstacles that stand in his way. Many factors have the potential to not comply with common fantasy; after all, he does not understand the DNA of the Bavarians in the same way he did at Barça, after spending nearly two decades there as a member of La Masia and senior player prior to his managerial stint.
Problems like, for example, whether or not he has the freedom he wishes with transfers could stand in the way of progress. His ability to build on near-perfection is also something that has rarely been tested; he has maintained it, yes, but with Barça B as well as the first team, he took over a squad of players spiralling out of control due to mismanagement and a lack of discipline.
Only the football matches that the future holds will determine whether or not Bayern Munich will maintain and somehow build upon the immense success the club has recently experienced as they enter Guardiola’s era; however what is certain is that, as the ship has already set sail, it is quite simply going to be a spectacular journey.
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