The great myth of elite club management is that coaches enjoy an easier ride than those below them. When discussing Pep Guardiola’s then-potential move to Manchester City in December 2015, Harry Redknapp expressed his contempt for the Spaniard’s career path.
“Guardiola’s going to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season,” Redknapp told Kicca (is Kicca still a thing?). “I’d like to see him go to Dagenham and Redbridge. I think that would be a challenge for him. Let’s see if he can get them up to the Premier League; if he does that, we’ll all say he’s the greatest manager we’ve ever seen. See if he can do better than the lad who’s there now.”
As ever with Redknapp, his is a view of the man in the street taken to its most extreme. There are plenty of sensible supporters who consider Guardiola in some way cowardly for only taking jobs at the very highest level of the game. Only in football could someone be blamed for trying to reach the height of their profession.
What Redknapp wilfully fails to recognise is that with elite clubs comes a higher level of pressure. There may be no dodging dog mess in parks, cleaning boots or any other cliched mark of ‘real’ football, but every defeat is treated as disaster worthy of investigation. It’s a lesson Carlo Ancelotti, Guardiola’s successor at Bayern, is learning only too well.
Bayern’s defeat to Rostov on Wednesday is the shock result of a Champions League group stage that has generally been a procession for Europe’s most successful clubs. Before this week, Rostov (currently sixth in the Russian Premier League) had scored only three times in four Champions League matches. They doubled that total in a 25-minute period either side of half-time.
Only four months into his Bayern tenure, Ancelotti is doing his best to make Guardiola’s reign look better and better in hindsight. The Italian has already lost three games, a total that Guardiola did not reach until the April of his first season. Bayern have lost consecutive games for the first time since May 2015. The statistics just keep on coming: Bayern have gone three games without a win for the second time under Ancelotti; they did so twice in three years under the last guy.
After the defeat, Ancelotti criticised his side’s defending, accusing the team of being too carefree. Yet it’s not like Bayern have turned themselves into the great entertainers. Not only have Bayern lost top spot in the Bundesliga, but they’re not even the division’s top scorers.
Whether or not the title processions of the Guardiola era are a thing of the past depends to be seen, but in the short term, Ancelotti must now enter fire-fighting mode. Finishing behind Atletico Madrid is no disaster, but supporters at the Allianz Arena are not accustomed to settling for second place. For the first time in years, that’s precisely where Bayern find themselves domestically and in Europe. Not as easy as it looks, this super-club management lark.