The paradigm of success is, broadly speaking, to achieve goals and live up to expectations. On a raw level, however, to build success on a basis of mediocrity is a feat far greater. To build greatness with a layman’s tools takes an exulted level of skill worthy of celebration. It is for this reason that, whatever he achieves at Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola will still fall short of true greatness.
As the world watched Guardiola’s new employers (from the end of this season), humble the legacy by which he made his name, the shock was palpable.
It is possible to assert the claim that Bayern were indeed favorites for the game, playing with incredible panache all season at the imposing Allianz Arena. The squads too are fairly comparable, abundant with a clutch of the world’s finest talent.
The scoreline, however, no one expected. A 4-0 humbling of the competition's favorites has truly lifted Jupp Heynckes’ charges into exulted company, rightly marking them out as the European Champions-elect.
Guardiola added a tantalizing subplot to the game. Old and new. The team he built against the squad he stands to assume. German engineering clashing with Spanish flair.
In the event, Bayern were as merciless as they were efficient, tearing the Catalans aside with dogged defending and exemplary finishing. The result could well be endemic for this once great Barcelona side—a side that many once assumed invincible.
What then of the world’s most decorated player? Obviously not fully fit, Lionel Messi appeared toothless, his mesmerizing skill and ball control diluted. Yet even fully fit the little Argentinean could have done little to reverse the annihilation.
Barcelona were quite simply not good enough.
The return leg at the Nou Camp will be a source of pride for the Catalans. They will tear into Bayern with all the ferocity of a wounded lion, as they seek to enact the most improbable of revenges. They will fall short, however. The damage has been done, and the Germans will advance to their second consecutive European final.
Heynckes’, now 67 years young, has called time on his impressive managerial career at the end of this season. A former German international, it is by this Bayern side that he will be remembered.
The smirk on Guardiola’s face as he enjoys his last few months of relaxation is understandable. He is assuming almost the perfect managerial position. He will take control of a squad with no discernible positional weaknesses, an average age of just 24 years old and a huge transfer war chest, the blueprint for success is inevitable.
In Manuel Neuer, Guardiola has undoubtedly the world’s finest goalkeeper.
His captain, Philipp Lahm is the best full-back of his generation. On the other flank breakout star of the season David Alaba, at just 21 years old is set for astonomical success.
A midfield of Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, will be buoyed by the phenomenal potential of Dortmund’s Mario Goetze from next season.
In attack, Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez, both just 27 years old, will be a partnership that will define Guardiola’s regime.
Quite simply, it is ludicrous.
Pep Guardiola is a smart man. When it was announced that he would return as Bayern boss next term, it was met by surprise. With an ill-disguised affinity for the country, it was assumed England would be his next destination.
Yet where would he go?
Chelsea, to join a fragile regime in which success is expected and even slight failure met swiftly with a P45? Manchester City, a team who have been so ordinary this season as to question whether, governed by the new Financial Fair Play rules, they will recover?
That leaves Manchester United. The League Champions would be England’s most attractive proposal, but, quite simply, with the evergreen Sir Alex Ferguson seemingly no closer to retiring, they were not an option.
Bayern Munich could potentially win the treble this season. This is a precedent not conducive to the enhancement of Guardiola’s profile. Quite simply, there would be no more to win. The only way would be down. He could equal, or he could fail.
The Spaniard’s arrival will be met by abundant riches. Supremely talented players will join the revolution, and Guardiola will win. Yet this is no more a real test of his managerial potential than he met during his time at Barcelona.
The squad at his disposal in Spain was so decadent in its attacking riches as to almost pick itself. Square pegs were put in round holes as players were played out of position to accommodate the superstars. How can a team possibly accommodate Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa? It is unconventional but not groundbreaking, it was simply picking the best players and putting them on the pitch.
At Bayern the squad seems more balanced. The defence and goalkeeper are far superior, while a little is perhaps lost on the attacking half. As a collective, though, it is bred to succeed. Again, Guardiola will inherit a side that will almost pick itself.
He will pick up trophies at Bayern as they establish themselves as a new World order. Team and individual honors will follow, and his name will grow out of all proportion. Yet on a raw and basic level, any comparison with the truly great managers will highlight holes in the Spaniard's resume.
Sir Alex Ferguson has built astronomical success at Manchester United from a club that was languishing in mediocrity.
Jose Mourinho has won the Champions league with two sides that were not in the top five contenders at the start of the season. Winning it with Inter Milan is a monumental achievement, but his success at Porto almost defies logic. Even at Chelsea, Mourinho delivered on a vision. He was the first to deliver real success and set the precedent by which Roman Abramovich has set his expectations ever since.
There are others too. Men who have built success on failure, reversed fortunes and turned losers into winners. This is the hard road, the long slog to success, but it is the only avenue to true greatness.
Until Pep Guardiola steps onto the road, he will simply be a good manager who has inherited great players.