Bayern shows the way

Bayern shows the way

The Munich outfit has handled change in exemplary fashion, bringing in Ancelotti for Guardiola

Bayern shows the way
For the second time in three years, Bayern Munich is showing the rest of the world just how to manage change at a big club. The announcement that Pep Guardiola would finish his contract at the end of this season and then be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti means that Bayern is thinking so far ahead of the game, and the opposition.

Guardiola is arguably the most progressive, most inventive coach in the business. He has a way of playing, and he challenges himself to take that into any club, in any country, he chooses.

Ancelotti is one of the most adaptable of coaches whose record of winning the ultimate trophy, the Champions League cup, at different clubs in different countries is the very model of spreading knowledge and calm effectiveness to any group of players he comes across.

A coach is not, as many people think, simply a hireling who can be changed as if replacing a light bulb. He is the most important person at a club, the go-between who develops the ethos of the way players perform and satisfies the ambitions of the boardroom.

Where Guardiola goes next only he knows. The assumption is that it will be the Premier League because he desires to test himself in England. He gives the impression that he could retire at 50 — and he turns 45 in January, having won what titles there are to win in Spain and Germany.

It does not require great imagination to see him at Manchester City. Its Abu Dhabi owners modeled the club on Barcelona. They hired Ferran Soriano to run the English club, and Txiki Begiristain to be director of soccer — similar roles to their work at Barcelona at the time when Guardiola stepped up from managing the B team to coaching the first team.

Over four years, Guardiola liberated and developed the Barça principles he learned as a player on Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team.’ He pushed the limits of everything — imagination, intensity, insatiable hunger for trophies.

Guardiola’s ‘tiki taka’ soccer took possession play to fresh limits.  The concept of accurate passing at a pace quicker than opponents can think (augmented by the demands that once a Barça player loses the ball he must try to retrieve it within seven seconds) drew the best out of Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández.

But the first man it burned out was the coach. Guardiola’s intensity was such that he needed to take himself, and his family, to Manhattan for a year’s sabbatical. While there, he brushed up on his English, but it was Bayern that tempted him back.

Then, as now, the big decision was around Christmas, when German soccer takes a midwinter break. Time for the chairman of Bayern’s board, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, to go to market for the future coach.

Guardiola’s  predecessor at Bayern, Jupp Heynckes, who also announced his departure at midseason, set the bar so high that the Spaniard needs to collect all the trophies — the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the Champions League — in his final season.

The Bundesliga is no problem: Bayern walks that more seasons than not. The Champions League is huge because Barcelona and Real Madrid and the best teams in every other league aspire to that. So the clock is ticking for Guardiola. He has the second half of this season to try for the Champions League.

As for that trophy, he possibly could just have built on Heynckes’ retirement gift of a team that merged German order with fine wingers, the Frenchman Franck Ribery and the Dutchman Arjen Robben. But Guardiola wouldn’t be Guardiola had he replicated that. He asked Bayern to get him one player, Barça’s creative midfielder Thiago Alcântara, to build his concept around. The board granted his wish, and threw in the wonderful Brazilian winger Douglas Costa this season and a Pole, Robert Lewandowski, who on his day is the world’s deadliest goal scorer.

But just as Guardiola dares to work with a three-man defence and to control games from the middle ground, so his restlessness for that fresh challenge in the English league gnawed at him. Yet, Guardiola hasn’t committed to his new future.

We assume that Man City, knowing his demands for holistic control over the style and the personnel he needs to achieve success, will be his destination. Even Manuel Pellegrini, the incumbent at City, has expressed the hope that Pep succeeds him. But Manchester United could yet intervene and offer its historic pull, and the chance to redevelop a failing team there. Chelsea would pay him the earth, but it is thought Chelsea’s impatience with coaches, and its complex structure beneath the owner, Roman Abramovich, would not appeal to Guardiola.

Finally, because London might attract him the way that New York did as a place to live, Arsenal might be the perfect fit. It plays the attractive soccer that Guardiola aspires to, but there are no signs that Arsène Wenger, the team manager and coach for 19 years, is ready to relinquish those roles — or likely to be pushed out.

So we wait for the white puff of smoke from the Guardiola house to signal his next move. Ancelotti, meantime, has signed up with Bayern. “Carlo is a calm, balanced expert who knows how to deal with stars and favors a multifaceted style of play,” Rummenigge said. “We were looking for this, and we have found it.”

As English, Italian and Spanish clubs make coaching appointments that resemble putting a finger up to the prevailing wind, Bayern has again thought through the succession in advance. It wanted Guardiola to stay, but his soul is set on moving on. So the board sorted out the best option, and got its man in calm Carlo.