After being courted by many high-profile teams, soccer’s most coveted manager, Pep Guardiola, has chosen Bayern Munich. The former Barcelona manager had taken a year’s sabbatical following the conclusion of the 2011–2012 La Liga season. Since then, speculation has run rampant about which club would succeed in securing his services. He will begin at the German club in July. The decision has been welcomed by the club’s supporters. Manager Jupp Heynckes had already intended to resign, despite the current success he is enjoying with the team.
The Catalan-born coach won 14 trophies in his four-year spell at Barcelona. In his first year, the 2008–2009 season, he steered the team to three trophies — La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League — becoming the first Spanish team to do so. More domestic titles and another Champions League trophy, along with the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup would follow. Under Guardiola, Barcelona also dominated the many El Clásico clashes with arch-rival Real Madrid. These are major achievements for the young coach who, prior to managing Barcelona’s first team, was Barcelona B team’s coach for only a year, leading them to a Tercera División crown — all before his 42nd birthday.
Exhaustion drove him to take a break from the game, he told reporters last May. When his sabbatical began, he rented an apartment with his wife and young children on New York City’s Upper West Side — far from the center of the soccer world, where he has enjoyed being anonymous even while living in plain sight.
Bayern Munich’s hiring of Guardiola’s signature is seen as a major coup, considering the many other high-profile clubs that were hoping to hire him. Among these were the English clubs Chelsea, owned by Russian magnate Roman Abramovich and Manchester City, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan; Italy’s Milan, owned by Silvio Berlusconi; and French club Paris Saint-Germain, owned by the Qatar Investment Authority — all teams with very deep pockets. However, according to former Bayern Munich player and current CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, had it been only about money, the Bavarian club would not have succeeded.
Chelsea’s erratic owner, Abramovich – who has hired and fired ten managers since his takeover of the club in 2003 — has long courted Guardiola, admiring his success and wanting tiki-taka-style soccer at Stamford Bridge. Abramovich’s November 2012 firing of Roberto Di Matteo — a former Chelsea player who is well-loved by supporters — angered the team’s fan base. Di Matteo guided Chelsea to Champion League glory over Bayern Munich in May 2012, the one trophy the Russian oligarch lusted after. Manchester City, on the other hand, hoped that by hiring former Barcelona player and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain and financial vice-president Ferran Soriano last October they would lure Guardiola to the Etihad. (Begiristain played with Guardiola in the early 1990′s and was part of the Dream Team under Johann Cruyff).
Bayern Munich’s coup will raise not only the team’s profile but that of the entire Bundesliga. While the English Premier League remains the world’s most-watched league, the Bundesliga also has a considerable international following — Bayern Munich being its best known and most popular team, the Manchester United of the Bundesliga. The German league also does not face the same financial problems that plague the Spanish and English leagues, and its stadia are usually filled to capacity, due to more affordably priced tickets.
Doubtless, Bayern Munich’s financial stability is one of the reasons Guardiola chose to sign there. They are one of soccer’s wealthiest clubs, with Audi and Adidas each owning a 9 percent stake. At the end of the 2011–12 La Liga season, member-owned Barcelona recorded a debt of €320 million. Chelsea and Manchester City continue to record dramatic losses.
Guardiola’s agent has said he chose Bayern Munich “because of its organization, its opportunities and its players.” Like Barcelona’s system of developing youth players to graduate into the first team, Bayern Munich has focused on youth development, not just purchasing big name players – while not being beyond luring young promising players from other German teams.
Bayern’s style of play is another factor. One of the team’s former managers, Louis van Gaal, coached Guardiola in his playing days at Barcelona. In van Gaal’s first spell at Barcelona from 1997 to 2000, Guardiola was admired by the Dutch manager, who made him team captain, despite his youth and the presence of more established players such as Rivaldo, Frank de Boer, and Miguel Angel Nadal. “He saw the game and communicated to the team,” van Gaal observed about Guardiola. When van Gaal was appointed manager of Bayern Munich in 2009, he brought with him the Barcelona system of short passing and pressing high up the field. Since van Gaal’s departure in 2011, the club has maintained the tiki-taka style under current manager Jupp Heynckes. Guardiola will inherit a system he is very familiar with.
Maybe the most surprising thing about Guardiola’s Bayern Munich choice is that he signed a three-year contract with the German club. At Barcelona he insisted on one-year rolling contracts, never wanting to tie himself down to one club for too long. As he said when he left Barcelona in May, “Four years is an eternity as Barça coach.” Presumably he will have more freedom than previous Bayern coaches over which players stay, come, and go.
Guardiola will be the first Spaniard to manage in the Bundesliga. His biggest struggle now until July is learning German.