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Guardiola's Decision To Join Bayern Has More To Do With Sane Judgment Than Chasing A Dream That May Not Be There
Josep 'Pep' Guardiola is as much about cold logic as return to romance. His decision to take charge of Bayern Munich has little to do with refusing big money offered by Roman Abramovich's Chelsea or Silvio Berlusconi's AC Milan. Any other choice by the most sought-after football entity in world - of course we are not taking into account his former ward Lionel Messi - would have been specious and fraught with whimsical crevices, something Avram Grant, Carlo Ancelotti or Roberto Di Matteo will surely give an undertaking for. The trio has been there and done that but fell prey to the caprices of their employers, one a Russian oligarch and the other a media magnet who also adorned the Italian prime minister's chair and was even convicted for fraud (tax evasion).
Since he stepped into his teens, Guardiola has been living a life of disciplined training that grew out of reason and was finetuned by one exceptional individual or a clutch of them. He joined La Masia, Barcelona's famous academy, where they provide the atmosphere for the finest young talents that scouts can find to be moulded into world beaters on the soccer field. The whole process, which Guardiola went through for the next six years, had no room for quirks or impulses. Learning to rein in one's instincts and channel it towards a team goal, the Catalan boy rose to become the leader of a team, a generation destined for success.
Johan Cryuff, the temperamental Dutchman, plucked him out of the youth squad and threw him into the deep end. Only 19, Guardiola was linking between the four-man Barcelona defence and attack where earth-shaking names - Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup and a year later, the one and only Romario - rode like colossus.
The seeds of the famous tiki-taka were sown in those exalted times when the club arrested the world's attention, expressing the Cryuff style. It was an obvious extension of Rinus Michels' 'Total Football' that evolved under its most famous exponent, the Flying Dutchman. The germane issue that Guardiola kept imparting to his La Masia core was to keep possession. With the ball at one's feet, one can't concede. Again it's a natural corollary, not an idea falling from heaven.
The progression was all rational, just as Guardiola's choice of moving to Munich. In a way, Bayern is to Germany what Barca is to Spain. A member-driven club with a proven track record of gifting the beautiful game with beautiful players coming through its youth system, Bayern was the only place left for Guardiola to pitch tent after his well-thought-out year-long sabbatical in New York.
Manchester United was the other place that Guardiola could fit in but that 70-year old Scot, Alex Ferguson, is refusing to leave the frame. The other clubs in the Premiership are either in doldrums financially or lack the sense of rationale that may keep Guardiola interested.
Football in Italy is not what it used to be. The money is not really flowing and the talent pool is like a seasonal river during summer, dry and bare. Every other day, the Seria A is struggling to deny one match-fixing rumour or another. Forget it, it's too chaotic for even a journeymen. And to think Guardiola, the journeyman-player, once chose to ply his trade there. He had to fight down a positive dope test allegation for his troubles.
Spain was never an option and so the only stop left for Guardiola appeared to be Bayern Munich. "If it had been exclusively about money, we wouldn't have had any chance at all, " declared Karl-Heinze Rummenigge, the Bayern chief executive and former legend. In the Bavarian castle, the German legends pull the strings. Not someone who made his money out of oil or television rights. Franz Beckenbauer, the World Cup winning captain and coach, is the chairman of the club. Uli Hoeness, his compatriot, is the CEO. They have given their lives, unhesitatingly, to the game and the club.
If these names fail to impress you, then there is a certain Gerd Mueller who looks after the youth system. This one is sure to ring a bell for anyone who has anything to do with attacking football. Guardiola's choice, just like his idea of how the game should be played, is borne out of pure calculation of passes that make way for a certain goal. Just as his cleaning of the stable once in charge of Barcelona was, controlled and deliberated and designed for the future which the myopic world failed to read.
The Catalan side of 2007-08 was a remnant of the past, dragging on with bloated egos and resting on laurels, the two enemies of any game. Guardiola decided to cut the slack, removed superstar Ronaldinho and Deco to start with and Samuel Eto'o one season later. The three had been the fulcrum of Barca's reclamation of top dog status under Frank Rijkaard, another Cryuff 'offspring'.
In came Dani Alves from Sevilla to add the fifth gear to Guardiola's professed passing game, and Andres Iniesta was asked to start almost every game. The changes, which now seem obvious, were unthinkable in the summer of 2007. And the masterstroke, even though it came much later in February 2010: Messi was pushed into the middle from the wings.
Writes John Carlin: "Messi played on the right wing during that first season in which the team won everything and he won his first Ballon d'Or. But Guardiola never ceased to believe there was room for improvement. Half way through the next season Messi suffered a rare loss of form. For three games in a row he went missing in action. The third, in February 2010, was a first-leg European Cup - or Champions League - game away to Stuttgart. The game ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw, with Messi more ineffectual than ever. Pep thought hard about where he was going wrong. Then it came to him. He saw he was wasting Messi's talent playing him out wide, he spoke to him and said, 'From now on you're going to play up front, in the middle'. " Guardiola also said, as Messi would later recall, "Now you're going to score three or four goals a game. " Three weeks later, in the return game against Stuttgart, Barcelona won 4-0 and Messi scored two goals, setting up another. He didn't score three or four goals every game, but he came close. His scoring rate soared, as it continues to do today. In his first season with Guardiola, Messi scored 38 times;in his fourth, he scored 73. "
The need for such revolutionary change is not the need of the hour in Bayern. The structure is in place, the Bundesliga this season is theirs for the taking and the Catalan thinker is not rubbing his predecessor the wrong way as Jupp Heynckes decided not to extend his contract once it expires in the summer. Rummenigge has said: "We are sure that he can bring a shine not just to Bayern, but to German football. " The former captain of Germany has hit the nail on its head. Guardiola is much more than about winning trophies. He has won 14 out of possible 19 trophies in four seasons as Barcelona coach. No one has won so much in such a short period. His style rubbed off, helping Spain break their international trophy drought winning the World Cup in 2010 and the European Cup on either side of the big prize. He is there to add some lustre as Germany has taken the step ahead from the arithmetic of Matthaeus and Sammer to the geometry of Mueller, Kroos, Gotze, Reus and the whole new generation which fervently believes that there is much more to win ning in football. As reinforcements, Luiz Suarez and Radamel Falcao - currently the Liverpool and Atletico Madrid talismans - may be seen in the Munich mix.
It is a kulturkampf that Guardiola has been asked lead five months from now. And no struggle can succeed without reason and cold logic with the right mix of passion and idea. That's what Guardiola stands for. His love for English football - as he professed in his speech on the 150th anniversary of the FA - came at rather inopportune moment. The very next day, he said yes to Bayern.
Love took a backseat and common sense, like 'keep the ball and win the game', carried the day.
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