Have Bayern Munich declined under Pep Guardiola?
When Pep Guardiola took over from Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich, he did so on the back on the club’s first ever domestic treble. The movers and shakers in Bavaria had decided well before the end of that particular season that Barcelona’s “mister” would become the architect to move Bayern even further ahead of their opponents in the Bundesliga and Europe.
Their decision looked more than a little premature when Heynckes delivered on all three fronts in the 2012/13 season, Arjen Robben providing the coup-de-grace at Wembley.
Guardiola would, therefore, have a fight on his hands from the beginning. A fight to convince the supporters that he could provide something better than that which had gone before and a fight to convince his playing staff that his often ground-breaking training methods would bear fruit if everyone bought into his philosophy.
Pep’s regime was, and is, fastidious in every single detail, right down to having the grass at the Allianz Arena and Bayern’s training complex cut to precisely 17mm. Yes, really.
Guardiola working to re-build Bayern Munich’s style of football
Since taking over the reins, Guardiola has rarely changed personnel but has certainly introduced a more possession based game, something that we were used to seeing week-in and week-out when he was in Catalonia.
His mantra was simple, “If we have the ball, the opponents don’t.” It’s why we often seen passing stats that are off the charts, especially when compared to other teams.
And it isn’t possession for possession’s sake either, there is always a purpose with Guardiola. Wearing teams down has been his speciality. Of course, that isn’t always enough for a demanding board and public.
Per Ed Aarons of The Guardian, Guardiola noted:
“This is a big club, so you can’t say we are in a cosy situation. If you win, you’re a genius. If you lose, you have lots of problems but that’s the nature of my job. It isn’t enough to win the Bundesliga and the cup. Only a treble is enough for a club like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern but I am proud to be here with these players.”
Losing to former club Barcelona in the manner in which Bayern eventually did, without a single shot on target in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final, will not have sat well with the decision makers at the club. It simply wasn’t good enough at the top level.
But does that one result, and perhaps the loss to Real Madrid at the same stage last season, show a decline in the team’s fortunes? Ditto a couple of end of season league defeats that, in reality, meant absolutely nothing other than perhaps a little bit of lost pride.
Disagreement with club doctor major folly; managing sky-high expectations the key
A huge public falling out with club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt after the loss to Porto in an earlier round of this season’s Champions League is perhaps the biggest failing of Guardiola’s tenure. Muller-Wohlfahrt was hugely well respected at the club having been associated with Bayern for nigh on 40 years.
That he and his staff would just walk out en masse gives a hint as to the demands placed on everyone by Guardiola, which is all well and good when trophies are being collected, European trophies that is, not domestic ones.
As manager of Bayern Munich, you are expected to win the Bundesliga. Only Jurgen Klinsmann has failed to do so from all of the managers at the club in the last two decades. Borussia Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp before this season’s disaster were almost a reasonable competitor for the title, but there is little else to worry the best team in Germany.
That said, Pep did “only” do the double in his first season and he’s fared even worse in this campaign.
A consistent ploy to reinvent the wheel hasn’t always worked. The pressing game and high line that Guardiola favoured at Barcelona hasn’t been as successful for the simple reason that Bayern do not possess that type of player, save for perhaps Thiago Alcantara who has also been schooled in the way of the Catalans.
Philipp Lahm emerges with great credit for having the intelligence to adapt and excel in any position that Pep sees fit to station him, but that is down to the expertise of the player as opposed to the intelligence of the manager.
A huge number of tactical variations might seem upon first viewing as a manager still pushing the envelope as to what is possible on the football pitch, not allowing his staff to be comfortable or settled in any one position. Total football if you prefer. It has worked against the majority of teams, but his record is poor against teams from the top half of the table, where he has in fact lost more than he has won.
Change in mentality achieved; European domination the next aim
Certainly, injuries to key players have cost Munich over the latter part of the 2014/15 season. Arguably, had Pep been able to call upon the services of Robben, Ribery, Alaba et al against Barcelona, then the result could’ve been much different against his former employers. In the semi-finals of the German cup, Bayern were plain unlucky against Dortmund, as they were knocked out after their failure to convert any of their spot-kicks.
Looking objectively over this and the end of last season, he has won three trophies out of six played for and been knocked out in the semi-finals in the other three. Most clubs would settle for that sort of record, and particularly after a World Cup year, something that didn’t escape the attention of club president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, per Weloba.com:
"Normally after a World Cup you are a year half dead. You don't run a meter more than the necessary, you're not motivated. I simply believe that what our coach achieved with the team is great. Thanks a lot."
Indeed, if we look at Pep’s tenure purely from the perspective of silverware then it can certainly be argued that Bayern haven’t progressed as he or anyone connected with the club might have liked.
But that isn’t the whole story. Far from it. Pep was brought in to progress the side in terms of its mentality. To have everyone believing in the way he uses space as well as players as a tool for dismantling the opposition. To have everyone giving an extra 10 percent even when they seemingly have nothing left in the tank. To demand the absolute maximum from the kit man upwards. Everything has to be perfect.
And one or two results aside, it has been. No one can argue against the fact that Bayern are playing a brand of football rarely seen at the Allianz Arena, and the locals love it. The vast majority of the time that is winning football, but, occasionally the team will come up short. What would fans and the board rather happen? The Germans playing an archaic brand of football that harks back to days gone by? Of course not.
The club knew what they were getting with Guardiola and need to back him in the short, medium and long term. There’ll be hiccups along the way, but that’s what happens when you move forward with a project. Teething problems.
Go back to the penultimate season of Heynckes’ reign. Second place in the Bundesliga and runners-up in every other competition. Winning precisely nothing. The season before that under Louis van Gaal - third in the Bundesliga, knocked out in the Round of 16 in the Champions League and semi-finals of the German Cup. Winning precisely nothing.
Heynckes’ treble seems to have clouded everyone’s judgment. Guardiola remains a visionary and a risk-taker and no one ever achieved anything without first going out on a limb. The fans of Bayern Munich need to be careful what they wish for, as with Pep, they have a manager who can give them all the joy they want, but only if he is given time.