When Pep Guardiola takes over Bayern Munich this summer, he’ll be inheriting a Ferrari of a football squad. And while managing what is arguably the world’s best team is an honor that most managers can only dream of, the road ahead will be anything but easy for the Spaniard.
One of the biggest issues Guardiola will confront is what to do about Bayern’s style of play. Naturally, most would reply: Nothing. After all, the idea of tinkering with a squad that is but two matches away from a fantastic treble seems audacious.
While possessing the talent capable of playing in a number of styles, Bayern typically favor a possession-based approach that infuses a high intensity press in both defense and counter-attacks. Their full-backs stay true to their primary job of defending yet love to burst forward into the attack. The midfield is highly skilled yet ensures the back four is supported with cover before pressing forward and creatively interweaving themselves into attack. It’s a conservative yet brave style that emphasizes awareness while allowing players to express themselves.
Although it’s hardly a new style for the Bavarian giant (it has carried them to the Champions League semi-finals in three of the past four years), it is only now being recognized as the most dominant style in Europe. For the previous five years (or arguably more), the stylistic gold standard was the one that Guardiola brought to prominence at Barcelona, the famed tiki-taka.
In tiki-taka, possession is everything. It is death by a thousand cuts, a game requiring triangles inside of triangles and pass completion rates of over 90 per cent. When performed correctly, it is breathtaking and virtually unstoppable. But is Guardiola so attached to this style that he’s willing to undue Bayern’s current method of football?
Judging the Spaniards character, most likely no. At least not right away. To come into his new club and risk the wrath of the owners, players and fans by introducing a different style – and one that was born in bred in Spain – would reek of arrogance. But over time it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a more calculating approach is infused into Munich’s play.
A second issue Guardiola faces at Bayern concerns personnel decisions. Will Pep seek to rebuild the squad that already sits upon football’s Iron Throne?
As of now that answer seems to be yes. Last week Guardiola made what was effectively his first major signing when Bayern activated the €37m release clause of Borussia Dortmund playmaker Mario Gotze. The coup represented the second-highest transfer fee in Bundesliga history and earned Munich an attacking midfielder who is one of the most gifted players of his generation. Some even claim Gotze represents Guardiola’s new Lionel Messi, more fodder for the argument that Guardiola could be set to install a system that replicates tiki-taka.
One player who appears set to move on is Arjen Robben, who Guardiola has reportedly made available for transfer this summer. It’s believed that Pep has not been impressed by the winger’s one dimensional attacking play, where he starts on the right before cutting in and shooting with his left. In fairness, ridding Bayern of Robben seems like an obvious decision as doing so removes a potentially cancerous ego from the dressing room.
But will others follow?
Rumors of Bayern’s desire to bring a striker into the fold are rampant – with Luis Suarez and Radamel Falcao being the most widely mentioned – and it is believed that Mario Gomez may be the fall-guy. After a fantastic 2011-12 Bundesliga season saw him haul 26 goals in 33 matches, this season has seen the German behemoth score only 10 times after falling behind Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic (15 goals, 22 league appearances) in the pecking order.
What other signings might Guardiola make? It wouldn’t be a shock if he discarded Daniel van Buyten or Holger Badstuber to bring in a new center-back to provide competition to Dante and Jerome Boateng. With a reported war chest of £240m at his disposal, anything is possible.
But despite the envious position he is poised to assume, the decisions won’t come easy for Pep as he looks to navigate the potentially treacherous new roads at Bayern Munich.