Wednesday 22 January 2020

Innovator Guardiola passed up Manchester for immortality

Bayern Munich manager Josep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during the UEFA Champions League match at the Etihad Stadium
Bayern Munich manager Josep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during the UEFA Champions League match at the Etihad Stadium

Paul Hayward

The temptation to stay in New York must have been huge. Pep Guardiola had won 14 trophies in four seasons at Barcelona, so what could he do next after his Manhattan sabattical? How about take charge of a Bayern Munich side who had won the treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup?

Why not? A man can get sick of Central Park, Broadway and all that culture and energy. The most successful Barcelona coach in history could have never entered another dug-out. Barcelona's Champions League victory over Manchester United at Wembley could have been his masterpiece, his guarantee of immortality.

In this ordeal of a European fixture for Manchester City, Guardiola showed why Bavaria was such an appealing next stop. Within an hour they were 3-0 up and had destroyed Joe Hart, the England goalkeeper, beating him twice inside his near post and dribbling the ball around him for their second goal, through Thomas Muller. For City it was a crushing night that made a mockery of their project to conquer European football with middle-eastern wealth.

In the first half Bayern achieved a level of domination not seen in this stadium since, well, City did the same to Manchester United a couple of weekends ago. With their orchestral midfield passing, and phantom striker, Muller, Bayern swept away the fear that last season was their zenith, from which the only way was down.

Guardiola's challenge to himself, plainly, was to improve the apparently unimprovable, and City were obliging hosts. By the interval, City's fans had passed through all the stages of disappointment to arrive at a state of shock.

If anyone thought Guardiola's decision to start without a conventional centre-forward pointed to timidity, they were soon disabused by Franck Ribery's fizzing drive, which flew through Hart's outs-stretched gloves, and by the fluid passing of Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm, reinvented by Guardiola as a holding midfielder.

City panicked under the weight of red jerseys. The early Ribery goal conveyed its intended message. This was going to be a horrible night against Europe's champions.

Bayern Munich was not the easiest job Guardiola could have taken. In many ways it was the hardest, because the trophy count could not be improved. No Bayern coach is invulnerable.

"Last season Bayern won everything, but they already had thousands of trophies in their cabinet, so one more or one fewer doesn't make too much difference," Guardiola said on the eve of this match. He is not about to set silly targets. He has already heard the Bayern hierarchy rattle their jewellery from the galleries and will be a lot wiser now about how the club works and what it expects.

CONTRAST

The physical contrast with Pellegrini was striking.

Guardiola might have been in the other dug-out. Pellegrini was Plan B at best after Guardiola leapt at the chance to go to Bayern. But we get too hung up on management and personalities. What we saw here was a gloriously mature Bayern side – the champions of Europe – against a City team who seem to pick and choose when to turn it on.

Bayern look utterly at home in Champions League action. City often look eager to scuttle back to the Premier League. Pellegrini's decison to stick with two strikers even when his midfield was being over-run was hardly likely to improve his poor record against Guardiola.

The "coward" of the county, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic oddly called him, is no such thing. He is an architect of great wins and he made a good choice by rejecting Manchester in favour of Munich. (© Independent News Service)

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