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:

Winners

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.

Losers

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.

Unknown

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.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

chicagofire.com
Leave a comment

Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.