With less than a month until Pep Guardiola’s official appointment as head coach at Bayern Munich, the buzz surrounding the club’s new manager is sky-high.
Yet as we’ve been left to reflect the season that was, in which Bayern confirmed themselves as champions of Germany and Europe under the assertive stewardship of Jupp Heynckes, a sense of melancholy has begun to attach itself to the possibility of Pep Guardiola’s success at the German club.
What if he isn’t the Bavarian messiah we all think he will be? What if he fails at Bayern Munich?
As absurd as it may sound, it’s not beyond the realms of reality or indeed reason. The Catalonian coach does have a few black marks to his record, and they may become clearer as his time in Munich rumbles on.
A darker side to Guardiola’s tenure at Barcelona, a factor which is rarely brought up, is the incredible amount of money which was wasted on terrible transfers during his time in charge of the Catalan club.
Over the course of Pep’s four years at Barcelona, he spent around €142 million on players—such as Aleksander Hleb, Martin Caceres and Dmytro Chygrynskiy—who featured rarely, if at all, for his team.
The one player that stands out in this point is the emphatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Although never considered a flop in terms of his goalscoring record for the club, his early exit and written off costs do well to characterise the club’s eagerness to burn cash when necessary. A player that had cost the club €61 million, happily disregarded at a moment’s notice.
This may have been deemed acceptable behaviour for one of the wealthiest clubs in the world if it wasn’t for the fact that the club were actually struggling financially at the time.
In fact during Guardiola’s first two seasons Barcelona’s debt rose to an all-time high of €430 million—€160 million more than it was before Pep’s appointment—as the club struggled to pay club wages and had to sell the aforementioned Chygrynskiy to lighten some of the club’s liquidity problems. In July 2010 Barcelona president Sandro Rosell mentioned that the club would have to take out a loan to simply pay the players’ wages.
That very summer Guardiola spent €72.5 million in a bid to re-gain the Champions League trophy. A trophy he did indeed go on to win with Barcelona that following season, but through means that simply wouldn’t work at his new club.
Bayern Munich are a club who are regularly commended on their financial astuteness and the thought of splashing cash and hiking up debt for the sake of silverware or short-term success is something that wouldn’t go down too well with the fans or chairmen.
Of course, Barcelona are a club that has built much of its success, and debt, off the back of unfair TV deals that are largely designed to allow the Catalan club, and their rivals in Madrid, to harbour huge revenues. Such a system doesn’t exist in Germany, and with every penny well earned in Munich, there is a rigorous process of ensuring every penny spent is well accounted for too.
Bayern Munich may be one of the wealthiest clubs in the World, but they’ll need Guardiola to be a little more efficient with his transfer policy if he hopes to invest heavily and succeed at the Bavarian club.
As well as problems with players he hopes to bring in to the club, Guardiola may also encounter some trouble with the players he already has on the wage bill. Or rather, the lack thereof a particular Argentinean player.
The young coach has already taken preliminary action against this by ensuring the club signed up the services of Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Gotze. Yet even the young German playmaker, described once by Franz Beckenbauer as ‘Germany’s Messi’, can’t be expected to offer as much as Lionel Messi did during Pep’s time at Barcelona.
It is without any doubt that Lionel Messi truly shone during Guardiola’s four years at Barcelona, scoring a total of 138 league goals across four La Liga campaigns. If that Barcelona side is the crowning achievement of Pep Guardiola’s career, then Lionel Messi must surely be the jewel of that golden feat.
Yet with around 33 percent of Barcelona’s league goals to his name during that period of success, Lionel Messi not only underpins Guardiola’s success at the club, but also begins to undermine it.
If we are to see Guardiola emulate his past Barcelona side with Bayern Munich this season, a goalscoring midfielder like Messi is essential. Yet no player—existing or arriving—offers the ability to fill that role.
If we were to take the same tactics and style of play directly from Barcelona and apply it Bayern Munich we still come up short in terms of an ample replacement for the magical Argentinean.
Thomas Muller offers physique and a goalscoring ability, usually preserved for the larger stages of the season, whilst Franck Ribery falls under the more conventional definition of a "winger." Yet neither suggest they can be Guardiola’s 40 goals per season inside forward.
Mario Gotze, as abundantly talented as he is, has never been a proven goal scorer for Dortmund or Germany and despite playing the same position as Messi—false number nine—it would be foolish for Guardiola to assume the young German prodigy can perform that role and score as many goals for him.
As obvious as it may sound, life may not be so easy for Pep without Lionel Messi
Of course this is nothing more than ifs and buts, and Pep Guardiola is more than likely to be a fantastic coach for one of the world’s most exciting clubs.
Yet football is a sport that can change instantly, it’s why we adore it, and as history shows, great managers come and go as quickly as their counterparts on the field. Maybe, just maybe, Pep Guardiola is destined to fail at Bayern Munich.