Are Bayern taking a risk with Pep?

Pep Guardiola will be Bayern Munich’s manager next year. His resume certainly reflects a manager comfortable at the table of the biggest clubs in the world but how much of that resume is down to the man himself and how much was gifted to him by a team that virtually ran itself.

Pep Guardiola bought unprecedented success to Barcelona

Has anyone seen a player like Lionel Messi before? A player who is capable of winning not just games on his own but leagues. A player who scores goals even when he doesn’t try. A player gifted with speed, incisiveness, accuracy, ability and monumental skill on a level no other player on the planet can claim to have reached. Combine this freak of football nature with a team seemingly organically built around him, perfectly suited to fit his football style and highlight his strongest points and you have a symmetry unseen in the football world. Barcelona are as close to an organic team as you will find. The club’s system is based around a youth setup closely aligned to the first team. All youth teams play in the same manner as the top side and players are bought to the club with a skill set that will allow them to play to this system. This allows youngsters to slide virtually seamlessly from the reserves to the first team. It is almost like a modern production line where parts are interchangeable, perfectly designed to fit the system they were intended for. In this regard the coaching side is the same. Barcelona coaches are required to play the Barcelona way rather than implementing their own philosophy. Obviously they may tweak things but the general principles are standardised and set out.

Lionel Messi: A player capable of winning a league virtually single-handed.

When Guardiola took over the first team at Barcelona it was almost the same as one of the youth team players graduating to the majors. He knew the style of play, most of the players and the system he would be expected to implement. He simply had to tweak it to get it running smoothly. Before long the results were clear to see.  Tika Taka football was introduced to the world and Barcelona became the standard bearer of world football, with Messi leading the charge. Trophies flooded into the Camp Nou cabinet and Guardiola rightly received virtually every plaudit the game has to offer. So when it was announced that he was leaving Barcelona for a year’s sabbatical he became the hottest property in world football, linked with every major club and courted by some of the richest men in the game.

Guardiola on the sidelines was a sight to see.

A few weeks ago it was announced that Bayern Munich had won the race for the Spanish supercoach. The announcement drew the same fanfare and any major signing would have and cemented the Bundesliga’s place as one of the world’s top three leagues. But is he really the super coach that he seems to be. Certainly his record at Barcelona is nothing short of astounding but there are a number of major concerns that should be leaving Bayern fans a little apprehensive.

Current Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes will pass over a world-class squad playing world-class football to Pep once he retires.

Firstly, he has no real record at a club outside of Barcelona. Guardiola is a product of the Barcelona system. He came through the club as a player, coached in the youth leagues and graduated to the youth team. He has not had to slog it out in a lower league club, battle in an unfamiliar league or work in a system that is not as rigid and defined as that at Barcelona. He comes to Bayern with only his Barcelona background, a background that was setup for him to succeed in, the question is once he is out of that system will he be able to create success elsewhere.

Xavi is just one of many examples of graduates from the La Masia youth academy, others include Iniesta, Valdes, Fabregas and Messi himself.

Another fact is that the loss of Pep has barely dented Barcelona as a club success wise. The introduction of Tito Vilanova as the first team coach has been as smooth a transition as you will ever see and the team, if anything, is performing better than they did under Pep. The question therefore has to be asked: Do Barcelona have a secret supply of world-class managers propping up their youth academy, waiting for their chance to shine, or is their playing squad and built-in playing system so efficient that virtually anyone can take over and the results will be the same? How much work did Pep actually do to get Barcelona where they are today?

Tito Vilanova, Barcelona’s new wonder coach.

Then there is Pep’s personality. After taking over as head of Barcelona’s first team, Pep had a number of high-profile clashes with some of the clubs stars. Perhaps the most notable of these was with Samuel Eto’o, one of the club’s greatest strikers and talisman. Pep’s arrival marked the beginning of the end of Eto’o and he was soon shipped out to Inter Milan in a deal that can be categorised only as incredible in its stupidity. The African star was swapped for Zlatan Ibrahimovich plus some 25 million Euro, a deal that at the time seemed weighted heavily in favour of Inter, and proved even more so after Ibra’s relationship with Pep fell apart midway through the following season and he was soon sold for less than half of what he was bought in for. It has been speculated that these high-profile clashes were down to Pep protecting Messi’s position as unquestioned star of the team something that, given the quality of Messi is quite understandable, but there have also been those who believe that it was down to Pep’s insistence on the players behaving in a certain way, something that the big personalities like Zlatan and Eto’o struggled to adhere to. The question is, when Pep joins Bayern, a club that doesn’t have the philosophy so ingrained as it is at Barcelona, where he must manage players from a number of countries from a number of different clubs and some with large egos, will he have the same success?

Samuel Eto’o was a goal scoring machine for Barcelona but was shipped off to Inter not long after Pep took over.

The final question mark is perhaps the biggest. The Messi factor. Pep was lucky enough to coach a side with a player who is perhaps the greatest to have ever played the game. How much of his reputation was built on this one player’s incredible knack for scoring and creating goals? The little Argentinian is a proven match winner and has talent that is impossible to coach and at Barcelona he has a system built for him. The question is how does Pep manage without Messi in his side when he needs to actually come up with a tactic other than ‘give the ball to Messi and something will happen’. At Bayern he will enter a team that is running as smoothly as Barcelona, a team that is well-managed, has a fantastic playing style, world-class players in every position and a backroom run by professionals. He will have support in the transfer market and will be expected to bring a swath of trophies to the Bavarian club. The question is however, is he really on the same level as the Fergusons, Mourinhos and Capellos who have proven themselves at a number of clubs in a number of countries, or is he simply the youth team coach who was lucky enough to be gifted the easiest coaching job in the world? For me, the answer to this question is far from clear.

Will Pep be able to recreate the success of Barcelona at Bayern Munich? Only time will tell.