Little news in recent history has dominated the German footballing landscape as much as last week’s announcement that Pep Guardiola has signed with Bayern Munich.
One is hard-pressed to find a Bundesliga commentator or analyst who does not view the signing as a wholesale success, both for Bayern and and the Bundesliga. Indeed, football managers and pundits across the board have forecast the added value Guardiola will bring to the club and the league.
Their argument is simple. On the one hand, Guardiola will inevitably transform Bayern’s play, thus ensuring Barcelona-like success. On the other hand, Guardiola’s mere signing—the fact that he wanted to go to Bayern—affirms the attractiveness and stature of the Bundesliga.
No one can deny the success Guardiola had at Barcelona. In only four years as manager, racking up 14 titles along the way, Guardiola transformed the club into the powerhouse in club football. Thus, elation over the Catalan’s signing is understandable.
And yet there is reason for caution, for success at Barcelona need not necessarily translate into success at Bayern.
First, the question remains whether Bayern’s pockets are as deep as Barcelona’s.
The frequently portrayed—yet incorrect—image of Barcelona being a club relying exclusively on the talent it develops at La Masía must be juxtaposed to its pricey signings in the last decade.
Indeed, the list is long: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (€69.5), David Villa (€40m), Dani Alves (€35m), the return of Cesc Fabregas (€34m), Alexis Sanchez (€26m), Thierry Henry (€24m) ,and Javier Mascherano (€20m) merely constitute the tip of the iceberg.
It remains doubtful, however, whether Bayern—which has shown some muscle of its own over the past few years, signing Mario Gomez, Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and, most recently, Javi Martinez—will be able to dole out cash on players like Barcelona.
At Barcelona, Guardiola could have any player he wanted. He will not have that luxury at Bayern.
Of course, the Spaniard chose Bayern over Chelsea and Manchester City intentionally, opting for a club on which he could imprint his system. Indeed, many a pundit is looking forward to tiki taka in the Allianz Arena.
But that raises a second concern: Will Guardiola be able to implement his tactical vision that easily?
For whereas at Barcelona the entire club, including its prestigious youth academy, was designed with tiki taka in mind, the same is not true in Munich. While it is true that Bayern plays possession-oriented football, no one can imprint a tactical revolution overnight, especially one that aims to transform an entire football system from its youth academy to its professional squad.
Not to mention that much like Zlatan Ibrahimovic was never a natural tiki taka player, there are serious doubts whether Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller are—their footballing qualities notwithstanding.
Third, Guardiola speaks no German. In spite of wanting to learn as much German as possible before taking on his duties in Munich, it is unclear how effectively he will be able to communicate with his players. The language barrier could, potentially, prove troublesome for the Catalan.
Fourth, Guardiola may have chosen Bayern because, like Barcelona, it purports to be a family. But recent history casts that image in doubt. It was not long ago that Louis van Gaal—another former Barcelona man—was forced to acknowledge that the club has a godfather in the person of Uli Hoeness.
Add Matthias Sammer—the club’s sporting director and the penultimate alpha-male—into the mix, and things could become uncomfortable if Guardiola fails to succeed.
Nevertheless, Guardiola’s move to Bayern is a big opportunity, both for him and for Bayern. If he is given time, he does have the potential to revolutionize the club and establish Bayern as a long-term powerhouse in Europe.
In that sense: ¡Bienvenido Pep y buena suerte! Or, as they say in Munich: Herzlich Willkommen Pep und viel Erfolg!