Pep Guardiola recently announced is decision to take over at Bayern Munich last season. But will he be able to successfully make the transition?
Pep's Next Step
Pep Guardiola's achievements at Barcelona were nothing short of incredible. It is so rare that a manager in modern football can leave a club of his own accord, at the very peak of his reputation.
But Pep is a special individual.
After four seasons, three league titles and two Champions League trophies, he made the decision to bring his reign to an end last summer. Every Barcelona fan mourned his loss. Every Barcelona player was devastated to see him go.
Over four seasons he moulded the Catalan giants into a team in his own image, forging possibly the greatest club side of all time, cementing himself as one of the top managers of this or any other era.
Then after leaving Barcelona last summer, he became the most sought-after manager in Europe. English football appeared on the horizon, Chelsea the most likely destination. But after months of speculation, it was the German giants of Bayern Munich who managed to attain his services.
Whilst the move came as somewhat of a surprise to many at first, on paper the club suits him perfectly. Bayern Munich are one of the traditional European giants. A club draped in history and steeped in its own philosophy.
He will want to impose his own style onto the team, make his own mark and stamp his own authority. But it is something he must do gradually. Too many changes too fast could be his downfall. He need only ask Andre Villas-Boas of that.
Guardiola's philosophy at Barcelona was clear. He was a massive fan of possession-based football. He loved to pack the midfield with players who were comfortable on the ball. There were games last season where he squeezed Mascherano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas into the same side. He managed this for better or for worse. Passing football is his mantra.
But is he going to try and turn Bayern Munich into Barcelona? At this stage it is unclear, but I highly doubt he will. I'd even go as far as to say he'd be foolish to attempt it.
Guardiola was a vital element in Barcelona's success, but that doesn't hide the fact that Barcelona's current team is unique, their philosophy almost impossible to replicate.
It must be remembered that Guardiola was as much the student at Barcelona as he was the master. What exists at Barcelona does not really exist anywhere else. Guardiola must embrace the philosophy of Bayern Munich. He should not try and turn one into the other.
Wholesale changes at Bayern Munich are not necessary. When he took charge at Barcelona, Guardiola was the former reserve-team coach trying to stamp his authority. Players such as Ronaldinho, Zambrotta, Deco and Thuram were moved on or into retirement. All were big names, all were on the wane; all had their best years behind them.
Gerard Pique and Dani Alves were brought in to provide some freshness to proceedings, but on the whole Guardiola won his historic treble in 2008-09 through tweaks rather than dramatic changes. It was still mostly Rijkaard's squad; it was still largely Barcelona's classic 4-3-3 system.
There were, instead, changes in focus. Whilst Barcelona have always been a possession-based outfit, Guardiola made this their entire philosophy. Different personnel were used. The team was now built around Xavi and Iniesta in midfield, two players who started the 2006 Champions League Final on the bench, an act seemingly unthinkable now. Players such as Van Bommel and Edmilson were preferred by Rijkaard, their physical presence considered vital.
More significant changes were only made at Barcelona as Guardiola's reign continued. He'll need to do the same at Bayern Munich. He must encompass the culture, style and philosophy of the club.
Bayern Munich have an excellent squad already, a squad only denied from last season's Champions League by a Chelsea team who had destiny on their side; wholesale changes do not need to be made. At least not straightaway.
Messy without Messi
There are obstacles that must be overcome. At Bayern there is no Messi.
For all Guardiola's incredible success during his four seasons at Barcelona, it was all undeniably made easier by having the world's best footballer at his disposal. As it would be anywhere.
Pep's team peaked in the 2010-11 season, a season built around the "false-9" role that had been introduced to bring the best out of Messi, after Ibrahimovic's underwhelming sole season at the club. His switch centrally was forged largely out of necessity when the big Swede failed to fully impress at Barcelona. He then went on to excel in the role, reinventing it and making it very much his own.
It was a fantastic move by Pep, but it was surely an accidental revelation rather than a piece of genius long-term planning.
Ibrahimovic is an out-and-out central striker who cost Barcelona 66 million euros. He was not signed to be a one-season stopgap until Messi was mature enough to play through the middle. There is every possibility that if Ibrahimovic had been a success at Barcelona, to this day Messi would still be considered a winger/wide forward.
Messi's false-9 role is uniquely successful at Barcelona because of their high-intensity style of play. Their incredible ability to retain possession meant that they could afford to play without a conventional central striker. There are very few other sides who could pull this off. Barcelona is not a one-man team, but Messi is irreplaceable, and Guardiola shouldn't attempt to replicate his role at Bayern Munich.
Super Mario Bros
He may not have Messi, but he does have two fine No. 9s in Mario Gomez and Mario Mandzukic. Both are suited to the role of central striker, neither suited to the false-9 role. Guardiola is no stranger to playing conventional strikers; he sealed the treble in his first season with Samuel Eto'o playing through the middle, then signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to replace him.
There is the possibility he could play no one directly through the middle. He has the option to deploy an interchangeable attacking trio of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller. But he will be hard-pressed to leave out either of his two Marios.
It would be a huge shift away from Bayern Munich's classic style. They love to play with width, and if you play with width you need a central striker. No player in Europe is capable of playing the Messi role as well as Messi himself. It can only be expected that Guardiola will revert back to using a standard centre-forward when he takes charge of the German giants.
Guardiola has excellent attacking options, but for a manager who has had the luxury of Lionel at his disposal for his entire managerial career, it will be interesting to see whether he can construct a successful team without him.
Two vs. Three in Midfield
Much in the same way as there are similarities between Barcelona and Spain, there are similarities between Bayern Munich and Germany. This is undoubtedly to do with the number of players that play for both the club and country, although there are great differences between the styles of the two nations, especially in midfield.
Will Guardiola, who has had so much influence on the Spanish National team, be able to apply a Spanish midfield philosophy onto Germany's top club?
The Class Bastian
The midfielders Guardiola has at his disposal are very different from the ones he had at Barcelona.
Bayern Munich's key midfielder for a number of years has been the excellent Bastian Schweinsteiger. He is an excellent passer of the ball, but he is also a far more energetic midfielder than both Xavi and Iniesta. Originally used as a winger, he has come to the fore for both Bayern Munich and Germany as a dynamic central midfielder.
If Pep Guardiola tries to instigate his natural, horizontal style of play, it could shackle the German midfielder slightly. Bayern Munich and Germany both prefer a far more vertical style of play, focusing heavily on transitions and counterattacks.
In the past couple of seasons Bayern Munich (like Germany) have deployed a double-pivot central midfield comprising of Bastian Schweinsteiger and one other energetic midfielder. They then field a No. 10 further forward.
It is a completely different style of play to both Barcelona and Spain's system of three interchanging central midfielders, all with slightly different roles, all whose primary focus is on ball retention. Pep might be better off adapting Bayern Munich's current style at first, rather than completely changing the way they play. It would take too much of an overhaul straightaway.
Guardiola will be given free reign by the higher powers at Bayern Munich. In German football, however, backing the national team is pivotal: Pep will be aware of that. Their identity is vital, and wholesale change will be difficult. It will be interesting to see the role Schweinsteiger will play for the new Bayern Munich side. Getting the best out of him will be vital to Guardiola's success.
Javi Martinez Could Be Key
Guardiola has always favoured a certain type of midfielder, but at Bayern Munich his midfield options will differ greatly from the ones he had at Barcelona. He may add a face or two, but the German side already have a lot of quality in that area, so Guardiola may have to once again adapt his managerial style to suit the players he has at his disposal.
One player already at Bayern Munich who is an archetypal Guardiola player is the Spaniard Javi Martinez.
During Barcelona games in which they were dominating (pretty much all of them), Guardiola would drop his deepest midfielder at Barcelona, either Yaya Toure or Sergio Busquets, in between his centre backs, creating a back three, therefore allowing both his full-backs to push on and attack at the same time. It was a vital aspect of their style of play, as it gave them the width they needed to stretch the other team and provide space in the centre for the likes of Iniesta and Messi.
Javi Martinez is perfectly suited for Pep to continue deploying this tactic at Bayern Munich. He is a defensive-minded midfielder who provides a level of calmness and solidity. He is comfortable on the ball and can slot into defence seamlessly to create a back three during a game. He is an ideal player for Guardiola, one that will be vital in easing his transition into German football.
The Jury's Still Out
Pep Guardiola still has plenty to prove, despite what he has achieved in just four years as a manager. His brilliance is undoubted, but that in no way makes him a certainty for success at Bayern Munich.
Due to the stature and reputation he has deservedly attained in world football, he will be given all the time he needs to get things right at Bayern Munich.
However, German football fans are an extremely passionate and patriotic group. Bayern Munich's supporters will not want to see their club`s philosophy altered and their team adapted into some kind of Barcelona "Lite". Guardiola has been brought in to bring the Champions League back to Bayern, and a Barcelona "Lite" will always come up short against Barcelona. You need only ask Arsenal.
Pep must embrace his surroundings and Bayern Munich's culture, history and philosophy in order to become a success. Regardless of his achievements at Barcelona, the jury is still out, as he has still only managed one side, a club where he was idolised by his players and fans, before he'd even taken charge of a single game.
A club in which he was already a legend.
It will be fascinating to see if he can successfully adapt to less familiar surroundings. The prospect is mouthwatering. I just hope that Bayern Munich have to play Barcelona at some point next season.
That would be sensational.