“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.