According to many reports, there is tension in the Munich air. True to form, Pep Guardiola is stalling on signing a new contract, thus calling his future at the club into question. With a deal reportedly all but done for him to join Manchester City, this may be Guardiola’s last chance to deliver the Champion’s League to the Bayern Munich. But win or lose, should he leave the unsigned contract to gather dust on the table and swap the Allianz for the Etihad?
On the one hand, Manchester City would offer Guardiola an opportunity to shape the club from top to bottom. Having been chased for so long, and as arguably the most sought-after coach in the game, Pep could enjoy bucket loads of goodwill with fans and board alike, giving him the time to work with the team – unshackled by a prerequisite number of trophy wins in so many years. With Guardiola, more than arguably any other coach at the moment, you are signing up to a style of football, not just a crammed trophy cabinet.
And for Pep the temptation does not only lie with the present footballing environment, but the one he could help fashion. With the club’s new City Football Academy, a man with the right plan and farsighted view could put something special in place and leave indelible marks on the club. Of course, there is also his relationship with City executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, who seem to have been employed with the sole purpose of bringing Pep to the club.
What’s more, in England, Guardiola would have a different domestic football landscape to navigate to that in Germany. Currently Bayern have little in the way sustained competition in the league and although Dortmund are on their way back and Wolfsburg are trying to build something, Munich look set to dominate for the foreseeable future. The Premier League, however, is a different story. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United appear to be in a position to challenge for years to come, and Liverpool fans will be hoping Jürgen Klopp can bring some swagger back to Anfield.
Make no mistake, a move to the Etihad would be enticing and would appeal to anybody looking for a challenge. And, of course, it goes without saying that the financial rewards would also be significant.
But what if Guardiola chose to stick, and play the hand he is holding. Bayern Munich are currently one of the best teams in Europe and the Catalan trainer could conceivably go on to make Bayern one of the game’s great teams. In fact, why not take it a step further and say there may even come a time where his Munich team are more synonymous with his legacy than those he created at Barcelona?
History, however, may suggest that Pep is more inclined to twist than stick. Throughout his era-defining spell at the Camp Nou, Guardiola famously worked under a rolling one-year contract. Alongside this, his obsessive nature and meticulous attention to detail appeared to take their toll on him physically and even led some to voice concerns over his health. Despite everything being in place in Barcelona for him to create a dynasty, he stayed just four seasons and took a year off before being wooed back into action by Bayern Munich. The German giants were never going to stand for such a laissez faire approach to employment and immediately slapped a three-year contract on the table.
In today’s game, three years is long-term. But by tacking on a few more pages to his contract, Guardiola and Bayern Munich could achieve so much more. If he was sold on the Manchester City project, he would be there already, you would think. And despite the presence of Soriano and Begiristain, something doesn’t sit right about Pep and City. In Munich he still has unfinished business, namely the Champion’s League. For all his domestic dominance and tactical artistry, he has failed to emulate the treble-winning side he took over from Jupp Heynckes. If he leaves Germany without winning the trophy, he will have failed. After all, it is not an exaggeration to say that most trainers worth their salt would have won at least a couple of Bundesliga titles in any three-year period with this team.
Guardiola was brought to Bavaria to win the Champion’s League. To take the club to the next level. In terms of how the team plays, he has taken them forward, but without a European title, can it really be called success? If Guardiola is as self-critical as his manner suggests, then he will dissatisfied with a season of becoming champions in March, winning the German Cup, but falling short on the European front.
Guardiola is only 44. Why not invest at least another three, four, or even five years in the Bayern project and see what can be done? If he harbors a desire to manage in England, then it will wait for him. It would take something dramatic for his stock to fall so low that he wouldn’t be a candidate for any top job in the Premier League. A Bayern exit a few years down the line might easily coincide with a certain Frenchman vacating his seat in North London, for example. And if not, how long would he realistically have to wait for a top four job to come up?
And where else is he going to find a squad like the one he has now? At Bayern, Guardiola has a lot of young players, who are not only sovereign in their positions, but also exquisite footballers, able to operate in multiple areas of the pitch. As well inheriting an excellent team and, even more importantly, sitting at the end of a fruitful conveyor belt of homegrown talent, Guardiola and the club have generally made studied and decisive moves in the transfer market, whether cherry picking from their domestic rivals or identifying elite players on the continent and bringing them to the Bundesliga. What the coach has at his disposal, coming into his third winter at the club is a special blend of talent.
Players such as Philip Lahm, Xabi Alonso, David Alaba, Thiago Alcântara, Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez and Mario Götze can be, and regularly are, moved around the pitch almost at will, key pieces in their trainer’s in-game maneuvers. In the absence of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery, Kingsley Coman and in particular Douglas Costa have hit the ground running in the wide positions, while Chilean warrior Arturo Vidal and young talent Joshua Kimmich have climbed on to Pep’s tactical merry-go-round without stumbling. And what better way to bookend the team than with the undoubted class of Lewandowski and Müller at one end, and Jérôme Boateng and Manuel Neuer at the other.
This Bayern side cut down their opposition on a frequent basis and although there have been standout performers on the pitch, Guardiola’s fingerprints have been all over the murder weapon. When watching this current Bayern side it is easy to be drawn into ignoring the opposition and enjoying and even attempting to figure out the way the Bayern XI approach the game, swirling around the pitch in formations that resemble mind-maps at brainstorming meetings.
It’s not only in the Bundesliga that teams have been dismantled. In Europe, Bayern have often been just as irresistible and there is a sense that with a little more time, they could comfortably be called the best team in Europe, and could become serial winners of the Champion’s League.
Of course, it is completely conceivable that neither Pep Guardiola nor Manchester City is interested in the move this summer. After all, Manuel Pellegrini might well go on to win another league title, and maybe more, this season and extend his stay in Manchester. But however successful the Chilean has been or will prove to be, the shadow of Guardiola has been looming over Manchester for a while.
Fans of Bayern Munich, and maybe every Premier League club aside from Man City, may hope that for their clubs’ sake, Guardiola does stay in the Bundesliga. For, as much as it would be intriguing to see him work in José Mourinho – the Premier League isn’t going anywhere. He may, however, get the sense that this Bayern team is perfectly aligned, with so many players sustaining good form. If Guardiola does see this he will have to be able to overlook the lack of immediate challenges domestically, and recognize that his Bayern Munich side have the chance to transcend the Bundesliga and become a true European giant of this generation – an iconic side even. Having seen what he did with Barcelona in four seasons, it would be compelling to see what he could create given a few years more.