Friday 20 April 2018

James Lawton: Guardiola entering the kind of stage Premier League looks incapable of providing

James Lawton

James Lawton

If Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich ever works up the nerve to ask, 'why Bayern?', in the ruins of his failed courtship of the world's most desired football man, Pep Guardiola, the reply will surely be thunderous – and humiliating.

It will be shaped around the brusque response, 'Why not?'

Why not take your talent to one of the world's most successful and stable clubs? Why not avoid a place that has seen the shockingly casual dismissals of such major figures as Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti – and the brutal rejection of Roberto di Matteo just a few months after rescuing a misbegotten season with Champions League and FA Cup triumphs?

If Guardiola had been hell-bent on both a crushing critique of the Abramovich style and methods and the financially shaped values of the Premier League, he could hardly have done a more clinical job.


First he lulled Chelsea, and perhaps even an admiring Manchester City, into a state of heightened well-being with a video message to the FA on its 150th anniversary.

He talked of his frustrated yearnings to play in England, which he suggested would only be assuaged somewhat when he accepted a manager's job from a leading Premier League club.

Talk about luring a victim on to a one-two punch combination. Even as Guardiola waxed lyrical about the mystical appeal of the English game, the ink on his three-year Bayern deal had long been dry.

It was a triumph for the German game, its philosophy, its economy, its ever growing quality of football, about which the 'Frankfurter Allgemeine' newspaper was in no mood to downplay.

After months of reading messages from England that Guardiola would inevitably succumb to the blandishments – and huge financial temptations – of Abramovich, the newspaper declared: "The German record champions and German football as a whole could not have earned a greater seal of approval.

"During his one-year sabbatical, Guardiola has been able to look around and consider his future without any pressure at all and Bayern Munich is a logical choice. It's a healthy club with a healthy management structure in a healthy league."

If that sounds like something of a masterpiece of self-satisfaction, it is also right. If Guardiola wanted no more than a cashing in of the mountain of chips he won while nurturing the talent of such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez to three La Liga and two Champions League titles he would no doubt have said yes to the Abramovich overtures.

He might have been even more tempted by the massive resources of Sheikh Mansour's Manchester City and the reassuring presence of his former Barcelona colleagues Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain in the club's high command.

But then he had his options and the most compelling of them was to pick up his career in a workplace where classic football values were still considered more reliable than the hit-and-miss imperatives favoured by the Chelsea oligarch.

Some still argued that the Premier League would win in the end, possibly when Manchester United came calling on Guardiola in the wake of Alex Ferguson's retirement.

Yet this was a default position on the inherent superiority of the Premier League, which has been under increasing pressure for some time and never more so than when Guardiola announced that it was Bayern and the Bundesliga that most completely met his current needs.

It was another sword-stroke to follow the ones delivered when Chelsea and Manchester City were almost formally dumped from the Champions Leaque and Fifa announced a World XI, which contained not a single Premier League player.

The signing of Guardiola might just have signalled the enduring power of unrestrained wealth, but such a possibility had plainly died in the furies of Stamford Bridge that saw Rafael Benitez arrive to a reception of unprecedented hostility.

Guardiola had to consider the difference, the stark difference, between Di Matteo's fall at Chelsea and the infinitely more measured transfer of power involving himself and the veteran Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heynckes conceded that he felt considerable pressure after the concession last spring of the German title to Juergen Klopp's superbly promising young Borussia Dortmund team and the Champions league title to Di Matteo's unbreakable Chelsea.

Maybe Guardiola noted too the Bayern agreement that Heynckes should get the opportunity to finish the last season of his three-year contract and the chance of redemption.


Indeed, why not Bayern? Why not a club with a superb tradition – 22 German titles and four European Cup triumphs – which has long been nourished by figures of the quality of Franz Beckenbauer, Der Kaiser and honorary president, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

While at Chelsea, a player of Frank Lampard's significance has seemingly outlived his usefulness while still producing match-winning performances, Bayern cultivate the meaning and the knowledge of their legendary performers.

They also fuel their tradition of outstanding players by grooming some of the most impressive native sons. Dortmund may have unearthed the young German player of a new generation in Marco Reus, but there is no doubt that in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller, Bayern have maintained their habit of nourishing natural-born inhabitants of the biggest stages.

It is the kind of talent that Guardiola will no doubt be able to augment in his own good time and judgment.

He is going, after all, to a place where there has always been considerable respect for acumen of such a high order. Why Bayern? The more you look at it, the more you have to say, why ever not?

Irish Independent

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