Pep Guardiola: Winning It Better

Pep Guardiola faced the almost impossible task of improving on Jupp Heynckes' final season at Bayern Munich. Up until now, he's doing exactly that...

Last Updated: 27/03/14 at 09:16 Post Comment

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As people who have spent a fair amount of time on the internet, you will probably know that there is a thing called Godwin's law. This basically states that the longer any online discussion goes on, someone will inevitably compare someone or something to Hitler, whatever the topic.

Football has its own versions of Godwin's law. Before Liverpool started winning games with exhilarating football, their supporters could usually be relied upon to somehow relate everything to net spend - usually Rafa Benitez's net spend - or how Andy Carroll actually didn't cost them anything actually, because actually blah blah oh god pass the revolver, I'm going for a walk in the woods.

An alternative to that is that managers of whatever stripe, after achieving any sort of success, be they cocky, modest, incompetent, boring, charismatic, kind-faced, enigmatic, pensive - whichever superfluous adjective you care to use - will inevitably be compared in some way to Brian Clough.

Most of the time that is, of course, bullsh*t, but one comparison that actually did ring true last summer was with Pep Guardiola, after he'd taken over at Bayern Munich. This was a Bayern side who, under Jupp Heyneckes, had won the treble last season. They had battered everyone in sight. They were the best team in the world. How could Guardiola, this darling of 'football purists' (a curious term that basically describes anyone who has ever watched the game apart from Bobby Gould, Norman Hunter and Sam Allardyce), who had been so successful so beautifully with Barcelona, improve on that? Surely anything he could achieve after that would be a step down, right?

"Win it better," are the words that echo from a Yorkshire TV studio in 1974, when Clough was asked by an incredulous Don Revie how on earth he thought he could improve on the old man's record, after the Leeds board had taken the maverick decision to replace a man all the squad loved with one they all hated.

Of course, Clough didn't do anything of the sort, alienating the players, fans and officials to such an extent that he was sacked after quite a short period of time. Not sure exactly how long, mind - you'd think more people would mention that sort of thing, wouldn't you?

Guardiola has though. On Tuesday night Bayern won the Bundesliga at an indecently early hour, with an absurd seven games to spare. At the moment fourth-placed Bayer Leverkeusen are closer, in terms of points, to the bottom of the table than Bayern at the top. By the end of the season, whoever finishes second (Dortmund are there at the moment) will probably have that particular ignominy as well. Bayern haven't lost a game, and have only drawn twice, the last of which came in October. Freiburg and Leverkeusen are probably regarded as some sort of mystical football shamen for somehow conjuring up the required sorcery to deny Bayern three points.

Last season Bayern drew four and lost one. A game! They lost a game! Granted, there are seven games remaining this season in which such a catastrophe could happen again, but that doesn't exactly seem likely, does it?

Equally, Guardiola can't quite yet claim to have topped Heynckes' material achievements because he has merely won the league. However, they face second-division Kaiserslautern in the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal, and Manchester United in the quarters of the Champions League; anything other than convincing victories in both ties is basically inconceivable. Indeed, you'd be a particularly wanton and flamboyant gambler to place any money against them winning both competitions.

It's the sheer scale of the dominance that has been striking. Last season Bayern were brilliant, a juggernaut that battered through more or less every team they faced, swatting them aside like a large bear might dismiss a troublesome fly. This term it's as if they haven't even noticed there are other teams there - they are the enormous alien ship at the start of Independence Day, and every other side they face are the satellites that are destroyed by said ship which doesn't even register their existence. It seems that Bayern don't recognise that there are other football teams, and just go out onto the pitch along with some vague shapes that nominally represent other human beings clad in sportswear, that they are obliged to play around before being handed silver things.

Guardiola might not yet have quite won the treble, and he has benefitted from Bayern's shrewd policy of buying their nearest rival's best players, but he has managed to convince a winning team that the way they beat everyone last time was wrong, and they should do things differently. That takes some chutzpah, as does playing Mario Goetze as a centre-forward (which must have made Mario feel a bit like Kim Novak in Vertigo - for Madeleine read Goetze, and for Judy, the beautiful woman Jimmy Stewart tries to turn Madeleine into, read Leo Messi), and trying to turn probably the best right-back in the world into a midfielder. Guardiola took the best team in the world and changed if not everything then plenty, and they are even better than before.

Guardiola has managed, as Clough never did, to win it better. Now, what's he going to do next season?

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