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Absence makes the heart grow fonder, we are told, and here football reflects life. It has been just eight months since Pep Guardiola stepped down as Barcelona manager, citing fatigue as the reason for wanting a year's sabbatical from the game.
In that time, Pep has been put on a pedestal somewhere between the reincarnation of Elvis Presley and the resurrection of Jesus, such is the enhancement of reputation. We are involved in a collective drooling at the anticipation of the cool, erudite Spaniard once again pacing the touchline in his thin jumper and suit jacket combination. It's man love on an industrial scale.
His standing is also enhanced by his choice of club. Whilst PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City and Brazil were all said to be fluttering eyelashes at the former Barca coach, with some effectively resorting to pulling down their pants and showing their wares, Guardiola instead calmly chose to move to Bayern Munich.
We swooned, believing this satisfactory in order for our man to remain on the right side of effortlessly cool (certainly not the case should he have been seen pacing the touchline at Stamford Bridge). Furthermore, the battle of Pep Guardiola vs Jurgen Klopp emits the type of footballing pheromones that could virtually impregnate the football hipster. This was the beauty of the philosophy vs the philosophy of beauty, and other such b*llocks.
Which all works perfectly, so long as Guardiola is successful at Bayern Munich, a premise that has been somewhat overlooked amidst the fawning sycophancy. Because whichever way you look at the scenario, both manager and club have taken a substantial risk.
Pep's success is anything but a guarantee, and here are five reasons why:
A Club At The Top
The key to forging a successful managerial career is to take the job at the right time. See Michael Laudrup, who after brief and unsuccessful spells as Spartak Moscow and Mallorca, replaced Brendan Rodgers at Swansea. A philosophy was in place, and Laudrup added three players he had previously worked with (Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan De Guzman, Chico Flores) and attracted Michu to continue the evolution already in place. Laudrup will now be discussed for the highest-profile jobs.
The firmest indicator of this is potential, as there is less benefit in joining a club that is already playing at maximum. Bayern Munich are enjoying their most successful season in recent history. With nine dropped points from 23 matches, a 17-point lead over Dortmund and a goal difference of more than double any other team, Bayern are on course for the record points total in Bundesliga history. They are now favourites for only their second Champions League in 37 years after their dismantling of Arsenal and on Wednesday night host Dortmund in the DFB Pokal quarter-final. Jupp Heynckes, retiring in May, is ensuring quite a send-off.
So how can you follow that? Guardiola is essentially entering a post in which second place in the league would be seen as a disaster, such has been the performance of the squad this season. He risks what I would term the Fergie Principle of Following Greatness: From the top, the only way is down.
Pep's Last Season
Guardiola's honours whilst at the Camp Nou were hugely impressive, of this there is no doubt. But, and this is not to discount his influence, it is clear that the coach was working with a phenomenal squad of players that had been tutored in the club's ethos over a number of years. When he joined in 2008, Lionel Messi was 21, Samuel Eto'o 27, Xavi 28, Andres Iniesta 24, Yaya Toure 25 and Carles Puyol only just 30. Quite simply, this was the perfect basis for success.
Pep's last season in Barcelona cannot be viewed so warmly. In trailing Real Madrid by nine points in La Liga and losing in the Champions League to Chelsea, Guardiola came up short in attempting the style of exit that his predecessor is enjoying in Munich. One merely needs to look at the record of Tito Vilanova in his first six months in charge to see that Guardiola is not alone as a manager that can direct Barcelona to success: 41 matches, 32 wins, 117 goals with a 12-point lead at the top of La Liga, all whilst being forced to leave assistant Jordi Roura in charge due to periods of illness.
Foreign Coaches In Bundesliga
Whilst the Premier League now sees foreign coaches as the rule, in the Bundesliga they still remain the exception. Currently, only Bayer Leverkusen and Monchengladbach have coaches born overseas, and both Sami Hyypia and Lucien Favre previously resided in Germany. It is rare for effective outsiders to be recruited.
Foreign managers have not been successful, either in Germany as a whole or specifically Bayern Munich. In the last 30 years, Bayern have had only three non-German managers. Soren Lerby was sacked after five months in 1992, Giovanni Trapattoni was sacked after one season before returning to win a league title in his second spell, and Louis van Gaal was sacked during his second season. The Bayern board are markedly impatient with their appointments of foreign coaches, and therefore Guardiola must hit the ground running.
The Pressure of Money
Since Guardiola's appointment at the Allianz Arena was announced, there has been talk of that rarest of footballing treasures: the transfer war chest. The Daily Mail reported that this figure was £240million, but one suspects that this may be wildly inaccurate and instead relates to the valued equity of the club stated by President Uli Hoeness during the latest shareholders' meeting. However, whatever the case, reports of bids for Luis Suarez will do nothing but fan the flames.
Unfortunately, I believe the purchase of players to be Pep's largest weakness. Whilst he may not have been the sole decision-maker on transfers whilst at Barcelona, the following (all during his four years in charge) do not read prettily: Alexander Hleb (£15m), Martin Caceres (£15m), Dmytro Chygrynskiy (£22m), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (£60m and sold two years later for a third of the price), Keirrison (£12m), Adriano (£9m). Even the £53m spent on Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez has not been truly vindicated as yet, with both players struggling to truly identify their role within the Barca system. That's nearly £200m of unconvincing recruits.
Whilst evidently the majority of Guardiola's experience has been remarkably successful, this is still a manager with just four years of top-flight experience, which he ended because he felt the role had drained him. The Spaniard will become Bayern's youngest manager since the unsuccessful Lerby in 1991, and the only man to push him close to the record is Jurgen Klinsmann (which didn't exactly work out well for all concerned). Pep has no management experience outside of Spain or even outside of Barcelona. He has intricate knowledge of one European giant which he must now transpose to another. Such things are rarely easy.
The intention of asking a coach to come out of a self-enforced exile to take charge at a European giant at the height of their powers seems a daunting task. Add to this the desire to see the instigation of a new footballing culture and ethos, with the pressure of inflated transfer funds and it just seems very much 'pride before the fall'. I truly hope that I'm wrong.
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