Why Bayern Munich Need a New Plan B for Pep Guardiola

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2015

Bayern's head coach Pep Guardiola drinks as he arrives for the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha BSC and FC Bayern Munich at the Olympia stadium in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. Munich defeated Berlin by1-0. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Michael Sohn/Associated Press

One of the greatest criticisms of Pep Guardiola during his time at Barcelona was that he lacked a "Plan B." The trainer won a treble in his first season at Camp Nou, and later another Champions League among many other titles, but when he fell short, it was usually attributed to an unrealistic commitment to passing the ball into the net, to pursuing a philosophy of perceived beauty to the very end when at times a more direct, simple method would appear far more effective.

After joining Bayern Munich in the summer of 2013, the trainer wavered (as summarized in this article) between pragmatism and his romantic, ideal view of football. But in recent months, he's made a decisive move to evolve his tactics to be less predictable and more effective with the team he has. Still, Bayern lack a "Plan B." This is not to say they need a secondary tactical approach. Rather, they need a backup plan in the event that the trainer opts not to extend his contract past its expiration date at the end of the 2015-16 season.

Since Guardiola reached the halfway mark in his tenure at the Munich giants at the beginning of this month, there has been plenty of speculation about his future. Bayern have made their stance clear, with CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge stating that it's the club's desire for Guardiola to remain head coach in the long-term:

"Pep can stay as long as he wants to," he's quoted (per Reuters) as having said.

Rummenigge's next words were possibly a misjudgment and at best a poor attempt to sell the club as being in a position of power.

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"[Guardiola] is not a person who seeks security. He does not need a five-year deal to know how much he earns at Bayern."

Indeed, Guardiola is not the type of person to be worried about his valuation by any club, and Bayern know this very well. Ex-Bayern president Uli Hoeness even admitted (per ESPN) that the trainer could have earned more elsewhere.

When the Munich giants signed Guardiola, they knew they had signed not just a coach, but a brand. Like fellow trainer Jose Mourinho and players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Pep Guardiola is more than just a name. He bears the same kind of brand power as even top clubs like Bayern. He can get as much money as he wants, but career path has always been more important.

Where Guardiola would go after his sabbatical was more of a sweepstakes than anything else, and a broadcaster with any ambition (and perhaps no shame) would have been able to make a special program for Guardiola in the form ESPN is airing Lebron James' The Decision.

For their similarity to Barcelona in terms of club philosophy and the quality of their players, Bayern were a sensible move for Guardiola. But after three years in Munich, the trainer may well move on to face new challenges. He hasn't been a success in England or Italy. Nor has he been able to raise a team from a modest level to the very top, as Mourinho did at Porto. Esteemed journalist Steve Amoia recently tweeted that Guardiola's desire is to one day coach Brescia, where he played alongside Roberto Baggio during his professional career.

The world is open to Guardiola and everyone, especially at Bayern, knows it. The Munich giants would therefore be unwise to make any assumptions about the trainer extending his contract. But recently, they have in such a way that they have devalued themselves as a club.

When asked about whether Bayern had a Plan B if Guardiola does not extend his stay, Rummenigge told Kicker (h/t Goal.com): "There is only a Plan A, and that means Guardiola."

Bayern overplayed their hand a year ago in assuming that Toni Kroos would extend his contract without bringing him into the top tier of the club's wage earners (as outlined in this article), but were ultimately forced to sell the player after Real Madrid offered him a massive wage package. Like Kroos, Guardiola is neither a Munchner nor a native Bavarian. He's still young, in exceptionally high demand and as he considers his options will be thinking more of his personal career path than of a commitment to Bayern.

To avoid scaring off Guardiola, Rummenigge and company need to be careful not to sound too desperate. At the same time, they also ought to prepare a Plan B in the entirely possible case the trainer decides to move on.

Guardiola is a very specific trainer and none in the world is very much like him. It's part of his allure, part of his brand. It also makes him very difficult to replace. He's entirely revamped the squad. The club played a defensive, containment game before but now are more a possession-based side with a very high defensive line. Philipp Lahm was a right-back before Guardiola, now he's a central midfielder. And no-one quite knows what David Alaba is at this point.

In his first year, Guardiola completely changed his team's approach. And although they ran away with the Bundesliga title, there were teething problems: They struggled in the Champions League knockout rounds before being humiliated by Real Madrid in a record margin of defeat, and only lifted the DFB-Pokal under controversial circumstances and after extra time. If Guardiola leaves in 17 months and Bayern are forced to revert to more conventional, less "visionary" football, they'll need another massive restructuring. Being aware, proactive and ready with a Plan B is the best way to avoid such circumstances.

Maybe Rummenigge is bluffing and Bayern are indeed looking ahead to life without Guardiola, just as they apparently are preparing for a long-term future without club heroes like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben with the signings of Joshua Kimmich and Sinan Kurt.

In any case, it may be reasonable to assure Guardiola of Bayern's faith in him, but it becomes counterproductive when he believes he is the club's only option. Such power makes an individual feel bigger than his club and also puts enormous pressure on his shoulders if he feels he is the only man who can achieve the club's goals: Think Luis Suarez at Liverpool or the "hot girl who's so out of his league" in any movie in which she's pursued by an ordinary guy who feels so lucky to have her that he inadvertently pushes her away.

Bayern existed long before Guardiola and will remain a powerful club even after he leaves, be it in 2016 or later. The future is built on plans, though, and it's important that they have a Plan B in case the former Barcelona midfielder turns down the chance to extend his contract. And as the expiry of his contract draws closer, he should be made aware. The alternative is to sell the club's value short and in doing so, to make the trainer less likely to commit to a future contract. Hardly a productive measure.

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