Pep Guardiola, the reluctant Bavarian

The era of long reigning managers is almost completely over. What impact does bringing in celebrity coaches have on a club and its identity?

Having worked for the best part of two decades in the IT industry, I have over the years witnessed a slow and gradual trend. Whereas before one often used to find talented, well-settled in-house teams with a deep knowledge of company culture, these days one finds oneself working alongside specialist squads that are interchangeable with no real identity, and managers – in modern-speak, “leads” – who more often than not parachuted in from nowhere before disappearing as quickly as they arrived.

The mission is to engineer transformation, but more often than not these experts and specialist consultants – usually overpaid – leave behind a system that nobody really understands, and ideas than can be best described as half-baked. While the company and those left behind are left wondering if the strategy is working, the experts move onto to their next destination with a sparkling CV.

One hears a lot of waffle about company identity and loyalty, but those right at the very top making the decisions know that this has not been the case for a very long time. It is much the same these days with top-level football coaches, where premium personalities have even overtaken the players in terms of the salaries they command and the media acreage they occupy.

Merry-go-round of big names

The pattern is the same: big money contracts that do not last long, and a resulting merry-go-round that sees the biggest headline-makers float between the biggest clubs.

The currently unemployed José Mourinho has coached four big teams in Porto, Internazionale, Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Chelsea (again). In addition to coaching the Dutch national team twice, Louis van Gaal has been the big cheese at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), Bayern Munich and now Manchester United. Bayern coach-in-waiting Carlo Ancelotti meanwhile has coached Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid.

Among this small group, perhaps leading it, is Pep Guardiola. The youngest of the current crop of premium coaches, the current Bayern trainer was coach of former club Barcelona before coming to Munich, and following the recent announcement of his departure is being lined up at Manchester City to replace Manuel Pellegrini – yet another top level coach who can list the likes of Real Madrid on his CV.

The very nature of this capricious merry-go-round means that these coaches never stay in one place for long, and are always looking for “new challenges”. Long gone are the days of the long-serving coach who symbolises stability; following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger is the last of the old school brigade left standing.

In this context, it is little surprise that Guardiola decided to leave Bayern after completing his initial contract. He will leave the club with a legacy significant enough to be picked up and developed by his successor, while never really hitting the mark with the supporters and gaining their trust.

It is somewhat like one of the many company CEOs who move effortlessly from one plum job to another, leaving those working on the factory floor unfulfilled and wondering what all the fuss is about.

The media parade followed Pep to Munich

Guardiola’s arrival in Munich in the summer of 2013 was met with massive media fanfare. His appointment also probably tripled the number of hacks, scribblers and paparazzi taking up residence in the Bavarian capital.

With the possible exception of Giovanni Trapattoni and the failed experiment with Jürgen Klinsmann, Bayern had always stuck to solid coaches that did the job and kept their heads beneath the media parapet. In appointing Guardiola, they had climbed the final steps to becoming a truly global brand, joining the likes of Barcelona, Real and United.

It is like a company right at the edge of being global shelling out the money to snare Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg to be its CEO.

When the Catalan coach signed on the dotted line and took residence at the Säbener Straße, many Bayern fans saw it as the beginning of a new and glorious era. Bayern had not only climbed that final step, but they now had a coach who was set fair to take the treble-winning squad bequeathed by Jupp Heynckes and take Die Roten to the top of world football for the next decade.

There were dreams not only of Bundesliga titles, but Champions League trophies. Doubles, trebles, with the club’s players sweeping the top awards and accolades from the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

In truth it has been a case of close, but no cigar. Like any CEO whose ambition is simply to gain experience before heading off elsewhere and top up the glittering resumé, Guardiola’s three years have left many Bayern fans feeling slightly empty inside. It is as if the star coach was in Munich just for himself, despite all of the public appearances clad in Lederhosen clasping a foaming Maß.

Nobody truly expected Guardiola to be transformed into a Bavarian overnight, but one can argue that there is a genuine sense that it was little more than keeping up appearances. He was there simply to do a job, not create a deeper emotional bond with the club or its supporters.

In Guardiola’s own words, his leaving Bayern at the end of this season is in order to “fulfil his ambition” of coaching in the English Premier League. For supporters of a club for which the spirit of Mia san Mia is central to its identity, this is a clear indicator that Guardiola never really wanted to be part of the fabric at Bayern. To those whose relationship with the club runs deep, it is little more than a punch in the guts.

While Guardiola will always be respected as a coach who delivered successive Bundesliga titles, he will never be loved by the Bayern fans. That is reserved for the likes of Udo Lattek, Dettmar Cramer, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Jupp Heynckes.

“If I was 60 or 65 I would have stayed, but I think I am too young. It was a dream, it is a dream. I am very grateful to Bayern for this huge opportunity.”

Heartfelt, or a meaningless platitude? I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I will let you decide. In saying it was always his “ambition” to coach in England appears to suggest that Bayern was little more than a temporary stepping stone, a name on his CV, another notch on the coaching circus bedpost.

Of course, we then have the elephant in the room: money. Given Guardiola’s prominence and the belief among pundits that he is the best coach in the world, money is no object. While Bayern would certainly have been able to put a solid offer on the table, its is certain that it would have been topped by the moneybags of the English Premier League and their cash-rich foreign owners, for whom financial responsibility has always been a minor inconvenience.

Guardiola’s “God Complex”?

Beyond that, there is Guardiola’s desire to be the master of his domain. While he was given plenty of latitude at Bayern – certainly more than any of his predecessors – he was never really able to gain complete control of the team. This will never be a problem at a team like Manchester City, whose owners will more than happily indulge the Catalan’s “God Complex”.

In England, Guardiola is likely to have access to a transfer market budget going way beyond anything he might have hoped for in Munich, and it is fair to argue that this, rather than the amount going into his own bank account, is what has sparked his suddenly strong desire to coach in England. (Unless there is something hitherto unknown that the less-than-wonderful city of Manchester has to offer).

Every time I now see a photograph of Guardiola smartly dressed in Tracht with a beer, I have to wonder whether he was silently complaining about the itchy socks all the time and never having a drop of the Paulaner because it might have conflicted with his macrobiotic diet and sartorial selections. In the light of his recent utterances, he does come across as something of a reluctant Bavarian.

Should Guardiola move to Manchester to take the reins at City, nobody will be surprised if and when he slips into the local culture seamlessly, rattling off a couple of local phrases and being photographed in the local boozer with a pint of warm ale and a chip butty. Only for the cameras, of course. No friend of Ferran Adriá would be seen eating or drinking that proletarian rubbish.

The modern coach is something of a chameleon, and Guardiola is up with the best of them alongside his bête noire Mourinho. While not sharing the same ability to court controversy as his Portuguese rival, he has arguably been one of the most divisive coaches to take the helm in Munich. No matter what happens between now and the end of the season, the opinions of the supporters will differ.

Either way, it has been an interesting time to be a Bayern fan.