Before Man City, Pep Guardiola has to keep Bayern focused on unfinished business
Pep Guardiola, the most coveted coach in football, has one conspicuous weakness, or at least in the two and half years he has been at Bayern Munich, a habit that keeps recurring.
His teams have a tendency for carelessness in matches that have very little at stake.
It would be too strong to call that a flaw. In fact, the odd results that they pick up in friendly matches – defeat to an MLS combined XI in 2014, a loss to Augsburg last summer – might be taken as a tribute to Guardiola’s lively mind, his enthusiasm for experimentation.
The fact they lost four matches on the trot once they had sealed, very early, their last Bundesliga title, read as a harmless side-effect of having players so industrious in their competitive outings that they have little energy to spare for the exhibitions.
Last week, the Bundesliga’s winter champions prepared for the second half of their season, which begins Friday night after a break of over a month at Hamburg, with a loss, this time to second-tier Karlsruhe, 2-1.
“It will be a lesson for us,” said Guardiola, who will not lose sleep over the setback but knows he may find the real challenges of 2016 quite different from those of 2013, 2014, or 2015.
The domestic domination of Bayern is unlikely to be under significant threat, given the vast lead the club sit on at the top of the German table.
By the end of Friday, they could be 11 points ahead of second-placed Borussia Dortmund.
But Guardiola will have novel tasks, namely maintaining the aggression and ambition of a large squad of players who know that he will not be leading them after June, and will have minimal say in what happens to them in terms of their futures beyond then.
Guardiola was obliged by Bayern to make known his own future plans last month, following daily speculation, fuelled by his unwillingness to commit to the long-term contract extension he was being offered by the club he has guided to successive Bundesliga titles in his two completed seasons so far.
“Three years,” he declared, “is long enough at a big club.”
He wants to try management in England, and most strong indications are that Manchester City will be the ones giving him that opportunity.
Bayern have already named his successor, Carlo Ancelotti, who will take over in July. Already there are players with half an eye to what the Italian might mean for them.
“Ancelotti is a great coach and a great man, from what I know of him,” said Franck Ribery, the winger, whose time at the Bayern of Guardiola has been mixed, to put it mildly.
Ribery was Uefa Player of the Year in 2013, when Guardiola joined the Bavarian club.
Injuries have since eroded his status a great deal since, and even a fully fit Ribery, which he believes he is close to being now, will have a tough job ahead of him to squeeze regularly into a starting XI where Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman, signed last summer, have made an excellent impression on the flanks, and Arjen Robben is still considered Bayern royalty.
Other issues are bubbling away beneath the surface. Robert Lewandowski, the centre-forward, had a prolific autumn, but is said to be upset that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, one of Bayern’s senior executives, spoke out about his admiration for Gonzalo Higuain, the Napoli striker, and said Bayern would like to have him on their staff.
Though Bayern took the precaution of securing Thomas Muller, Thiago Alacatara and Javi Martinez, three younger players, to long-term deals just before Guardiola’s announcement might have spread potential uncertainty through the squad, Mario Gotze’s future has a question mark over it.
Gotze’s contract runs out next year, and he has not been quite the consistent star under Guardiola Bayern envisaged when they bought him from Dortmund the same summer the Catalan coach started his job.
Many of the players, though, have recent experience of working with a manager whose leaving date had been flagged up well in advance.
Jupp Heynckes knew Guardiola was to follow him in the job from early in 2013. That May, Heynckes guided a motivated Bayern to the league title, the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) and the Uefa Champions League, the last of which Guardiola has been unable to emulate.
Keeping his players trained on that title is Guardiola’s priority.
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Published: January 21, 2016 04:00 AM