Last Train to GloryBy: Alfonso Duro
It may seem quite alarmist to talk about Guardiola facing his last chance to prove himself at Bayern Munich so early in the season, but such is the pressure in one of the most historic teams in Europe. The Catalan coach is revered as nothing short of a genius in Munich, but in a winning team results are the only valid currency, and last year’s loss in the Champions League semifinals is a big hump to get over for Pep.
MEXICAN SOAP, MUNICH STYLE. Here’s how I’ve always seen the Heynckes-Guardiola saga that ended with Pep coaching Bayern Munich: you’re a guy going out with a great girl. She makes you happy, she’s funny, she hits all the right spots on the short term; but she’s older, and not willing to commit long term for that same reason. This is a big sore spot, as you want to settle down pretty soon.
Now, along comes this younger, fitter, sexier girl whom you’ve always had a thing for, mostly because she went out with some douche bag you hate, who thinks he’s God’s gift to earth. She’s now been single for a while and you hear she is ready to get serious again. Your profile suits what she’s looking for in a boyfriend, and the mutual yearning to build a home and family together brings you closer than you could imagine. What do you do? Of course, you go steady with the sexier, younger one. Grass, they say, is always greener on the other side. Or is it?
ALL YOUR WISHES WILL COME TRUE. Few times has a Bayern Munich coach been granted all his wishes in terms of signing his desired players, and Guardiola has gotten rewarded not once, but twice. Javi Martínez, Thiago, Götze, Lewandowski, Benatia, Xabi Alonso, Reina, etc. The list is long, and the club has always come through its coach, even amidst criticism from fans and pundits. What else could Pep need? Well, seems like the former Blaugrana legend felt the need to throw a low blow regarding Toni Kroos’s departure to Real Madrid this summer. Funnily enough, when he had the chance, he never fully gave Kroos the reins of the team... but when you have everything you’ve asked for and more, and things still don’t work out, keeping your options for excuses open seems like a great strategy. Ahem.
PEP’S BAYERN 2.0. If you are going to have everything you want, then at least this one factor must remain constant: your team should get increasingly better with time. On that end, Guardiola seems to have done a wonderful job this year, so hats off to him for that. Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski are two cherries on top of an already lustily delicious cake, and their career aspirations are very well aligned with that of the team and Pep’s. At least he seems to have lined up the right army for such a battle.
CAUTIONARY TALE. But if Pep is as smart as he seems, he will soon realize one thing: any guy who dumped his girlfriend for a hotter girl once, is bound to do it again.
The Catalan manager better not get too comfortable in his spot, even after the club has bent over backwards to give him everything he needs and reaffirm his position as their long-term choice for the bench. Heynckes won the much sought after Treble (League, Cup and Champions League) for the club and still got the boot, so Pep better cover all his bases. Perhaps that’s the reason why, beyond the flash and the glamour of his big name signings, he still consistently goes back to square one and puts his money on a surefire bet: Claudio Pizarro. The Peruvian striker is the unsung hero of the squad, yet he remains as reliable as ever, knocking them home whenever he gets a chance. He embodies the direct style Franz Beckenbauer claimed for after the defeat against Real Madrid last season in the Champions League, and so Pep keeps him in his back pocket to use in case of emergencies.
And so, with Bayern Munich needing to win the Champions League this season no matter what—a devaluated Bundesliga, with Dortmund 10 points behind Pep’s team in the seventh game of the season, doesn’t cut it anymore—perhaps it is not such an alarmist thing to consider this Pep Guardiola’s last chance to succeed with the club. Right?