Wouldn’t it be heartening if the world was still big enough for Pep Guardiola to have enjoyed his New York sabbatical in seclusion? After four years in the glare that accompanies management, a glare that clearly took a toll if his drained valedictory press conference is anything to go by, it seemed he needed some peace.
It would be strange to think that for the last seven months the most successful manager in Barcelona’s history could buy his daily soya machiatto and only receive appreciative glances for his spectacular choice in cashmere sweaters, rather than a hail of requests for Instagrammed self shots with awe struck baristas.
Now though, Pep’s clearly bored with buying Pavement vinyls in Williamsburg and discussing pantheism over a Red Stripe with Thierry Henry. After some illusory hints that he would end up in the Premier League the announcement came yesterday that confirmed the bookies’ suspicions – he’s Bayern bound.
His decision to plump for German aristocracy over the Premier League nouveau-riche who had been pursuing him with crack-fiend desperation, is an interesting one. Perhaps it’s too generous to suggest, as some commentators have, that it’s a choice informed by the more idealistically appealing nature of the German league and a negative comment on the crass wealth on display in Manchester and west London. Sure, it would be great to think that Guardiola went to Bayern because they’re 82% owned by their supporters and because their ticket prices would give most Premier League chairmen a heart attack. By that logic though he should have ended up at Swansea or even AFC Wimbledon in what would have been one of the most surprising but heart warming moves in football history, akin to Leon Britton captaining England or Cristiano Ronaldo moving to Hibs because he thought Edinburgh was an architecture fans’ paradise.
It is likely that it was more a choice based on the fact that Bayern Munich are a superbly run club with the infrastructure and fan base to dominate European football for the duration of Guardiola’s three year contract. Also, despite their air of old school gentility, history has proved that Bayern aren’t averse to dropping unseemly sums of money on emerging and established talent. It’s unreasonable to think that Pep won’t be given access to similar funds – saying that, he may have already spent some of his pocket money as it is now hard not to to see his influence in the desperate summer chase for Javi Martinez’s signature, a move that cost the club an eye-watering €40 million.
The playing staff that they currently have in place isn’t too bad either, even for a manager used to calling on the talents of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. Premier League fans wondering why he would ‘stoop’ to Bayern’s level with City or Chelsea on offer might even remember a few of the Bayern first team – they formed the backbone of the side that battered our brave boys 4-1 in Bloemfontein three years ago. Admittedly none of them possess the singular talent of Messi (that’s kind of the point about him though – no one does) but it’s ludicrous to even suggest that Pep will somehow struggle now he doesn’t have the team assembled at Barcelona, as though Bayern are a team of plucky misfits he needs to whip into shape rather than a squad of supremely talented Übermensch. The likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos are special talents and will thrive under the Guardiola ethos. Worryingly, and annoyingly, it probably won’t do the German national team any harm either.
There’s another important factor in this decision as well, a shadowy figure lurking in the background, a demon when it comes to press conferences and more skilled in psychological warfare than the average Mossad chief – Jose Mourinho. Guillem Balague, in his sublime biography “Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning”, details the debilitating effect that the poisonous relationship between the pair had on Pep’s Barcelona tenure. It’s not unreasonable to assume that a small part of his choice to head to Germany was made on the basis he wouldn’t have to deal with the Special One for a while. Given that Mourinho seemingly has an insatiable Nietzschen death wish at Madrid (leaving a legendary club and national captain to warm the bench seems unwise at best, totally mental at worst) it’s not inconceivable that taking a job in England could have led to more close quarter battles with his nemesis, battles which he will now avoid. Instead he will most likely have to deal with the comparatively genial Jurgen Klopp, an avuncular figure whose baseball cap habits make him the tactically astute version of Tony Pulis and whose surname sounds like a particularly delicious brand of yogurt aimed at German children.
It’s going to be incredible to watch whatever Guardiola conjures at the Allianz Arena and both partisans and neutrals have reason to be excited. With the talent at his disposal and the prospect of recruitment in the summer he could well build a team that disrupts the Barca/Madrid hegemony in pub arguments about the best club side in the world. And who knows, he may even manage to squeeze a player from outside the Spanish top flight into the FIFA Team of the Year.
Whatever happens – it’s good to have him back.
Jake Farrell is one third of The Heavy East Podcast which can be found here. He will be tweeting his way through a year in China via @jakefarrell7