Guardiola goes to Bayern: Winners and losers

1 Comment

“We are delighted we’ve succeeded in appointing leading coach Pep Guardiola,” was the understated phrasing from Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in a statement on the club website. His club was announced the capture of the most sought-after free agent in the world. Delighted should be an understatement.

“Pep Guardiola is one of the most successful coaches in the world,” Rummenigge said, “and we’re certain he will add great flair to both FC Bayern and German football. We’re looking forward to the partnership from July 2013.”

There’s no doubt German soccer, beyond merely Bayern, was a big winner on Tuesday, though they weren’t the only ones. If successful, Guardiola’s effects could extend into the international game and have a significant impact on how (and to whom) the Bundesliga is able to market itself.

Here are the big winners and losers:


German Bundesliga – The debate about whether the  Bundesliga has “arrived” (in the border era, compete with other leagues in this new Champions League-centric world sense) expired two years ago. Now the question is to what extent it can compete with the Premier League and La Liga, be that for results, talent, marketing opportunities, or television money.

To a certain extent, all these things dovetail, which is why landing somebody like Guardiola is such a big acquisition. Bayern have made the Bundesliga a far more viable entertainment option for a section of world fans who still slotted the league behind its peers. The last vestiges Serie A’s more lofty standing are base don biased Guardiola’s move will challenge.

That a respected name like Guardiola chose the Bundesliga means a lot of viewers may do the same.

Toni Kroos and the rest of Bayern’s midfield – Guardiola is not going to make Toni Kroos, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Bastian Schweinsteiger into Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets, but he can get them to play more like them, a process that will involve a more incisive use of space. The technical skill developed at La Masia may not be immediately replicable, but Guardiola can teach Bayern’s players to seek and use space in similar ways. The reflexive way Barcelona reacts to each others’ movements and passes in their tight quarters is what separates them from similarly talented teams.

There’s a huge learning curve there, and it’s going to involve developing a level of intuition (and cohesion) that’s hard to teach, but if Guardiola can do it, Kroos, Shaqiri and Schweinsteiger will be much better players.

Joachim Loew, his successor, and the German national team – Eight different Bayern players have been called into the Nationalmannschaft between Euro 2012 and now. If Guardiola can get more out of those players, the Germany national team will be able to close the gap with Spain, particularly if some of their key midfielders become more familiar with Spain’s Barcelona-defined style.

With a year and half until Brazil 2014, Guardiola’s players will get a full season playing in Barcelona’s style. The real effects, however, may not be felt until after Loew leaves his post in 2014.

Soccer fans and their DVRs – Despite the biggest crowds in the world, an aesthetically pleasing style, talent that few leagues can replicate, and some of the biggest clubs in the world, the Bundesliga is still a woefully neglected league in terms of television. While it seems like too much to think one man can raise the profile of a league, that’s the Barcelona effect. That’s what Guardiola brings. Particularly with clubs like Bayern and Borussia Dortmund (and their emerging Clasico), there’s bound to be more interest in the league. Eventually, that will mean more access to better, currently overshadowed soccer.

Bayern and Pep, of course – It really is the best case scenario for both sides. Bayern gets as good a coach as a club could want, while Guardiola gets a chance to carry another titan to the summit. And if Guardian Germany correspondent Raphael Honigstein is correct, he’ll get €8-€10 million per year to do it.


Manchester City – This was Guardiola’s most likely landing point if he wasn’t going to Bayern. With two former Barcelona executives in the front office, Manchester City had that connections that would offer Guardiola a smoother transition into English soccer. Ultimately, they weren’t Bayern.

English Premier League – England’s teams have had trouble competing in Europe of late(the author says while a London team holds the title), but the draw of the Premier League is usually enough to overcome and competition-base quibbles. But we’ve seen Barcelona’s immune to that. So is Real Madrid. Now it’s clear, Bayern Munich’s not only able to keep players from fleeing to England, they’re able to lure talents away.

Mario Gomez – Bayern Munich’s target man does not fit Pep Guardiola’s style. As we saw when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at Barça, you can be the most talented player in the world, but if you can’t play in Guardiola’s system, you’ll lose time. Gomez may be able to adjust, but it’s difficult imagining the big No. 9 having long-term success under Guardiola.

English media – This kind of coverage has been going on since Guardiola left Barcelona this summer. Turns out the world is more than the Premier League and Spain’s Big Two.

That’s a bit unfair. England’s media product those stories because the public consumes them, Unfortunate, the English press are now out of the Guardiola business for a while.

Prepare for those recycled José stories.


Javi Martínez – Under Guardiola idol Marcelo Bielsa, Martínez was converted from defensive midfielder to central defender at Athletic Bilbao. His summer move to Bayern seemed to put him back at his more natural position, but possessing all the qualities Guardiola has come to look for from his central defenders, you wonder if Martínez will eventually move back into a pairing with Holger Badstuder (and whether he sees himself as a defender).

Chelsea – Chelsea’s ability to acquire big name coaches has been hurt by Roman Abramovich’s handling of Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, and Roberto Di Matteo. Still, it’s unclear whether today’s announcement makes them a loser. mostly because it’s unlikely Guardiola would have gone to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has to rebuild its reputation before becoming a viable destination for coaches with other options.

The rest of Europe – It will be a while before we find out what effect Guardiola will have on Bayern. It won’t happen in July, when he takes over, and we likely won’t know whether his changes matter until the very end of the 2013-14 season.

That’s the kind of problem we encounter when we’re trying to analyze results at the far right end of the success spectrum. Guardiola could be the greatest coach in the world and barely move the needle, the difference between him and Jupp Heynckes only evident in four to eight matches per season.

However, Barcelona was in a similar state when they promoted Guardiola, and he made them into world standard. In Germany, he won’t have to have that dramatic of an effect to tip Europe’s scales. Bayern is already a Champions League contender.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
Leave a comment

There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”