Guardiola goes to Bayern: Winners and losers

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“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.

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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.

Report: FIFA president Infantino in hot water

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The more things at FIFA change, the more they stay the same.

According to a bombshell report from The Guardian, FIFA president Gianni Infantino was under investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee before the president disbanded the committee in May. The report states that Infantino spent around $1.16 million on his election campaign, despite declaring publicly he had only spent around $583,000 on flights around the world to meet with national FA presidents.

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The report claims Infantino was also being investigated by then committee chairman Cornel Borbely over whether he influenced the election of a new president in the Confederation of African Federations, or CAF.

FIFA rules state that presidential candidates must declare campaign expenditures publicly.

The latest bad press on FIFA follows the arrest of Spanish Football Federation president and UEFA vice president Angel Maria Villar and his son among other national and regional officials on charges of corruption and improper management.

Villar appeared in court on Thursday, and a judge denied he and his son bail.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

(more…)

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.