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Future tense: Guardiola departure sparks frenzy

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been the week of managers, and it’s been good news and bad news based on how one looks at it.

First, we had Chelsea telling the world Jose Mourinho was surplus to requirements. Then Louis Van Gaal felt the wrath of the Manchester United faithful and the acerbic ink of the English press.

Now, as the icing on the cake, Bayern Munich have announced that Pep Guardiola, their star manager, will leave the club at the end of the season.

“We are grateful to Pep Guardiola for everything he has given our club since 2013,” Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

“I am convinced that Pep and our team will now work even more intensively towards achieving our major sporting goals – especially as it is now confirmed that Pep is to leave FC Bayern.”

In a way, the announcement was expected. For months now, there have been speculation of a dressing room in turmoil at the Allianz Arena, especially over Guardiola’s relationship with his strikers Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. And as the world saw at Stamford Bridge a few days ago, when bruised superstar egos are difficult to heal, it is the manager who must bear the brunt.

Where will Guardiola go?

Guardiola leaving is bad news for Bayern Munich, definitely. But this development will raise heckles in England, too. For the football fan, however, this is excellent news. Guardiola has done his bit in Spain, he has excelled in Germany but, as experts will often point out, he was handed ready-made teams. The real challenge lies in England, where the league is more open than any other. Where else could a club languishing at the foot of the table a season ago lead the pack more than a third into the next?

There are at least three clubs vying for Guardiola’s services.

Manchester City

For long the manager has been linked with Manchester City, where current boss Manuel Pellegrini, despite keeping his wards on track for a title challenge, is unsure of his future.

“I am sure Guardiola will work here some day,” Pellegrini said. “When is the future I don’t know but if the future turns out to be next year the most important thing for me to do is to try to win the title again.”

There are many factors that may bring Guardiola to City. For one, the club’s sporting director Txiki Beguiristain was colleagues with Guardiola at Barcelona. Then there is City’s chief executive Ferrán Soriano, who was Barcelona’s director not many years ago.

Manchester United

Manchester United top bosses have said they are happy to stick with Louis Van Gaal. But they are still waiting for some kind of hint of Guardiola’s intentions and future plans.

As far as the fans and supporters are concerned, now would be the perfect time to pounce of the Spanish manager, given United’s miserable run of form, which has seen the team drop from second on the table to fifth after three consecutive defeats.

Van Gaal has insisted his philosophy needs time to sink into the sinews of everyone playing in his team, but critics will argue he has had a season and a half without any significant results. United are out of the Champions League, they are playing like a team afraid of losing the ball, have no attacking ambitions (and prowess), and look desperate for some inspiration from the very top. And that could very well arrive in the form of Pep Guardiola, a football purist with a passion for flair.

For Guardiola, on the other hand, United’s stature, status and story will be attractions that cannot be ignored.

Chelsea

Chelsea Football Club, too, offers a good opportunity for Guardiola. The club is in turmoil after their best manager was asked to leave. While Guus Hiddink has been appointed as a short-term fix, there is a long-term vacancy available at the club. Owner Roman Abramovich is a self-confessed admirer of Pep Guardiola and could pull many a string to get his dream manager on board.

What does Guardiola bring to the table?

Pep Guardiola is a players' manager.
Pep Guardiola is a players’ manager, as he showed in Barcelona.

That said, Guardiola’s resume is one which any manager in the world will pay millions to have. Three La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues with Barcelona, two Bundesliga titles and another almost wrapped up with Bayern Munich. And all off this in only seven years of managing top-flight football.

His is an ever-evolving style of managing that often leaves opponents on the wrong foot. At Barcelona, he developed the unique ‘tiki-taka’ brand of football that managers across the world have tried in vain to replicate. Barcelona, under him, went from a side that won a title every couple of seasons to one that won multiple trophies each year.

His time at Bayern has been even more impressive. While he hasn’t won more trophies than his Barca stint, he has showcased the sort of fluid, unpredictable brand of football that puts other footballing philosophies to shame. The Guardiola manual of football is how football was meant to be played.

Always on the edge of his technical area, shouting instructions to his players, constantly reading the game, Guardiola embodies intelligent football.

What should Guardiola expect in England?

Guardiola cannot guarantee success in England, unlike his time in Spain and Germany. Photo courtesy: sportsjoe.ie
Guardiola cannot guarantee success in England, unlike his time in Spain and Germany. Photo courtesy: sportsjoe.ie

Wherever Guardiola does end up, and all odds seem to indicate England will be his destination, he will not inherit a superstar-laden club well-oiled and well-versed in the art of winning, like he did in Munich with a Bayern side, that had just won the treble. Instead, he will have to employ his craft and individuality similar to his days at Barcelona.

Guardiola rose through the ranks at Barcelona, both as a player and a manager, learning and perfecting the art of management on the way to the top. He got his first break as manager of the B Team, which he promptly guided to promotion from the Tercera Division to the Segunda B Division. He was then appointed first team coach, and among his first actions was to dismantle the squad he was left with by Frank Rijkaard, and impose his own style and philosophy.

In England, if he were to be given the same latitude and space, Guardiola could work wonders. But that’s a big ‘if’.

Instead, he will be sure to be part of a footballing universe that is as unpredictable as his managing style, where the bottom three inflict damage and take points off the top four, where there are multiple contenders for the title, and where patience is hard to come by. In addition, he will have to play an additional domestic competition, and will be faced with two-matches-per-week scenarios.

The physicality of the English league is another factor that Guardiola will have to watch out for. He will realise that ‘cute’ players are often not afforded the same protection by referees as they are in Germany and Spain.

Louis Van Gaal has described the Premier League as a rat race. And if Guardiola decides that England is indeed his destination, he will have to put in the effort and ride out the grind.

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