Pep Guardiola is widely regarded as one of the greatest managers of the modern era.
Having led FC Barcelona to three successive La Liga titles from 2008 through to 2011, followed by victories in their 2009 and 2011 Champions League campaigns, the former Spanish international quickly found himself a place in the upper echelons of footballing history.
Upon the announcement that he would be stepping down from the Spanish giants at the end of the 2011-'12 season, a bevy of elite European sides saw the chance to snag one of the most successful managers in contemporary history.
Eventually, it was Bayern Munich who managed to secure the Spaniard's signature, with the intention for Pep to take over from now legendary treble-winning coach, Jupp Heynckes, at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
Unsurprisingly, since Guardiola’s arrival things have been going incredibly well for the European champions.
With an impressive record of seven wins, two draws and no defeats so far in the Bundesliga, and a 100 percent record in all over competitions (which have included three amazing performances in the Champions League—perhaps most notably a 3-1 away victory against Manchester City), searching for a Bayern fan who isn’t happy with Pep’s style of management in Munich would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
However, while some heap praise after praise upon the 42-year-old’s shoulders, there are an ever-increasing band of pessimists out there who still maintain that Guardiola has had very little to do in regards to the development of his two illustrious squads.
In regards to Barcelona, this is a vicious misconception that has spiralled out of all sort of control.
While undoubtedly the likes of Xavi, Carlos Puyol and Andre Iniesta were solid and world-class players before Pep’s arrival as head team coach, the rest of the Barca setup were all either brought in or nurtured through the Barca academy under the tutelage of Guardiola himself.
Clever signings like Adriano Correia from Sevilla (quite possibly one of the most underrated players in modern football) who has the ability to fill in for basically any role in the side to an elite level, and the re-signing of players such as Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas meant that Pep’s Barca were able to go on and become the world-beaters we see before us today.
Crucially as well, he played an important part in the development of a certain Lionel Messi—slowly letting him rise through the ranks and timing his ascent to the top of the game smartly.
It would have been easy to throw Messi into the deep end when he showed so much promise as a teenager. Instead Guardiola waited—biding his time until Leo had matured into the player we see before us today.
And all of that is before we even begin to analyse the tactical side of the game that he brought to Barca with the now trademark tiki-taka style of play. It goes without saying that this introduction played a monumental part in the side's recent successes and will probably be a tactic employed at the club for years to come.
So it’s totally wrong to say that Pep is overrated, right?
In this reporter's opinion, yes.
However, while that may be the case in regards to his time in Spain we are now dealing with an entirely different kettle of fish.
Pep didn’t walk into a Barcelona team that was the best side in world football. He had to make his own mark and pull them out of the relative rut they were in to transform them into an unbeatable football machine. Bayern were already that before his arrival.
Having won the 2012-'13 Bundesliga season by a record margin and stormed to what was in the end (bar a close final against Dortmund) a relatively easy Champions League victory, Bayern had one of the most dominant seasons in their long and illustrious history.
A highlight probably came in the semi-finals of the UCL itself, when Guardiola’s future side ripped apart his former, defeating a full-strength Barca team 7-0 on aggregate.
Many of those doubters who had perhaps wrongfully questioned his influence at Barca were now in full voice, as undoubtedly a move to a club of this stature surely meant continued “easy” success for the Spaniard.
So far that continued success has definitely been the case. But the real question is: How much of this is down to Guardiola, and how much is down to the team that Heynckes built?
The honest answer is a little from column A and a little from column B.
Even the most staunch and resolute Pep fan can’t deny that walking into a job managing the likes of Franck Ribbery, Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger (to just name a few) is much of a challenge.
Without question Pep has been dealt a good hand in this sense, but as any poker player will tell you; the best hand doesn’t always win.
Now they sit languishing in eighth spot, taking just a solitary point in their last two home fixtures against West Brom and Southampton. This isn’t all Moyes’ fault, but it is a perfect example of how a good team can fall apart after a large shift at the top.
Guardiola has done a fantastic job of coming in and maintaining the same elite level of performance that Heynckes commanded of his players, while at the same time introducing a less German and more Continental approach to their play.
It's remarkable how quickly the team seem to have adapted to this. Sure, this isn’t tiki-taka football—there are still huge elements of the old Bayern on display after all—but it’s clear that keeping possession and more frequent passing of the ball has become the norm at the Allianz Arena.
On top of this, clever signings in the midfield like Thiago Alcantara and Mario Goetze have meant that Pep can amalgamate that familiarity of his style of play at Barca with the more clinical and forward-moving approach that Munich exhibit.
Goetze in particular demonstrated perfectly how this should be done over the weekend. With the side showing little real dominance against a weak Mainz side, the former BVB man was introduced into the center of the midfield at half-time. His introduction turned the game on its head, and Munich eventually ran out comfortable 4-1 victors.
Pep’s influential style of tactics could definitely be seen as a direct cause of this. With Goetze now back full time and Thiago to return relatively soon, we could see an already dominant Bayern side turn it up an extra gear and run away with the Bundesliga title again.
While nobody could suggest that Bayern were not a brilliant team before Guardiola’s arrival, it would take a very cynical observer to imply that he has had little to do with the continued success that the European champs have been enjoying.
The Guardiola factor is well and truly aiding Munich in their pursuit of back-to-back European and domestic crowns.
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