The Premier League loves to paint itself as the best league in the world, regardless of the sport. However, Pep Guardiola’s rejection of the EPL for the Bundesliga demonstrates a turning of the tide that will see the German league emerge as Europe’s premier destination.
If reports are to be believed, the former Barcelona boss had his pick of the clubs after taking a year-long sabbatical from coaching. Chelsea were understandably interested in acquiring his services, and there were whispers of him replacing Sir Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini and Arsene Wenger at the end of the season.
Guardiola’s decision to turn his back on the English league was a statement that positioned German football at the forefront of the discussion. Why had he made the decision to join a league that lags behind Serie A, La Liga and the EPL in terms of worldwide TV exposure and overall media coverage?
The answer to that may be in the question itself.
While it’s true that a move to the EPL automatically raises the level of profile of anyone involved, it also shortens their timeline for success. If Guardiola had moved to Chelsea, there’s no way that he would be afforded the luxury of time in order to bring success.
Roman Abramovich both demands and expects results, and he is not a patient man.
Guardiola wouldn’t have the complete control over team decisions that he would require. He would be stifled by the pressure of the owner and inevitably leave on bad terms, like so many managers before him.
Even though Bayern Munich won’t grant him the leniency to continue in the wake of repeated failure, Guardiola’s past affords him the respect of the board, and he will be given the time to mould the team into one that is recognisably his.
He needs to be given a long leash, anyway, as his continued presence in the league lends it credentials that it was previously denied. Although comparing the move to that of David Beckham to MLS is grossly unfair to the German league, there are parallels in the moves that are hard to ignore.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern's chief executive, stated as much when discussing Guardiola’s decision to come to Germany. As reported by The Guardian, his statement was telling:
We are delighted that we have managed to get Pep Guardiola whom several big clubs wanted and contacted. He is one of the most successful trainers in the world and we are sure that not only Bayern Munich but the whole of German football will benefit from what he brings.
German football has always been of a high standard—that much would be true whether Guardiola went there or not. Don’t buy the words of the cynics who snipe that he only went there because no deal with an EPL club could be reached, because it simply isn’t true.
Switch on any Bundesliga game, and you will see decent football. Watch any game featuring the German national team, and you will see fantastic football. The same is true of Serie A and Italy and of La Liga and Spain, whose leagues regularly attract some of the biggest names in the game.
However, the new level of prestige that Guardiola brings cements the Bundesliga’s place at the top of the European standings. It’s a league on the rise, which makes it exciting to new fans.
There is no oversaturation, no worldwide culture of celebrity that turns off as many fans as it brings in. Bayern players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm may be heroes of the German national team, but the league remains rooted in the football.
This is refreshing in an age of deals like the one that took Loic Remy to QPR, made solely on the basis of remuneration. If QPR go down, the odds of Remy remaining with the team to fight it out in the Championship are laughable.
Seeing players play for the advancement of the team is a quality that is disappearing from football as it becomes a sideshow to the business deals within.
While painting the Bundesliga as the antithesis to all this is being overly romantic—it’s a business, after all, and it’s not as if Guardiola is working for free—the spirit of the Bundesliga sits closer to the football of the past than any of the other top leagues.
For a manager like Guardiola, this is an attractive proposition, as well as an opportunity to make his mark on a league that still avoids the glare of the spotlight. His arrival has drawn attention to it, and it’s only a matter of time before others follow him to Germany.
This process will only accelerate as the exposure grows, and the Bundesliga will reveal itself as the destination in European football.
The only problem? It’s all downhill from there.