Among the interesting sub-narratives to have emerged from Carlo Ancelotti’s failure at Bayern Munich is the elevation in status of the job Pep Guardiola performed at the Allianz Arena.
Eternally scarred for having taken the “easy way out” by inheriting a treble-winning squad from Jupp Heynckes, the Catalan’s trophy haul of three Bundesliga titles, two DFB Pokals and countless domestic records was overshadowed by failing to get past the semi-finals of the Champions League.
That argument has merit, of course, as Guardiola was employed to maintain Bayern’s position at the top of the European elite while playing an iconic brand of football, instead he played a small part in surrendering it to Real Madrid.
But to measure his achievements on how further he filled Bayern’s trophy cabinet is along the same lines as expressing incredulity over the fact Ancelotti was sacked after two defeats and a draw in 11 games.
Because where the Italian failed spectacularly compared to his predecessor was not in what he did or didn’t win, but how he got his players to do it. Aside from stylistic criticisms – and Bayern’s football under Ancelotti was largley indistinguishable, it just got results – was that not a single individual in the squad improved on his watch.
Each player inherited from Guardiola has stagnated or gone backwards, visible in all its shame at the Parc des Princes.
Thomas Muller has been playing the worst football of his career for at least a year now; David Alaba being sent to a different part of Paris by Kylian Mbappe on Wednesday night summed up his regression having become one of the best left-backs in the world; Robert Lewandowski looks sullen and disinterested; Arturo Vidal is all bark and no bite. The list goes on.
For all the demands he put on his players each day in training, Guardiola set the bar through the stratosphere and the expectation placed on the individual enabled them to exceed performance levels of the past. As difficult as it may have been, it made the players happy, more fulfilled. These are footballers at the very top echelon of the game for a reason, they have worked hard to get there and, by nature, don’t want to stop.
Ancelotti’s laissez faire and contrasting attitude to training – every Sunday off, straightforward 11 v 11 matches the norm – left them disinterested and demotivated.
But his departure not only shines a more illuminating light on Guardiola’s work in impacting his players, it also reveals the influence he has had on coaching this decade.
There are, of course, exceptions – Zinedine Zidane the most prominent – but coaches are increasingly shying away from the Ancelotti model. As, for all its charm and simplicity, it’s become outdated.
Julian Nagelsmann has taken Hoffenheim from a middle to lower level Bundesliga outfit to the Champions League qualifiers with such revolutionary training concepts as a massive video wall constantly analysing a player’s performance. It’s now no surprise he’s the frontrunner for the Bayern job.
Nagelsmann has also highlighted a very Guardiolan concept in that the future of football will rest in players being positionally flexible. Fabian Delph at left-back, anyone?
Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham and Watford’s Marco Silva are coaches in the Premier League catching the eye and over-performing with an intense attention to detail on the training ground.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are the perfect mirror image of the man himself whose passion and touchline antics often unintentionally mask a brilliant coaching mind.
In France, the charismatic Jocelyn Gourvennec is reinstating Bordeaux as a force in Ligue 1 having performed wonders at Guingamp with a dedicated ethos and players following his methods to the absolute specifics.
The devil is always in the detail. Analysis and information crucial but also the concept of implementing your ideas on a group.
The dilemma for managers has always been, do you impose your methods on the team, or soften them according to the players at your disposal? In Ancelotti’s case, it’s the latter but that is being eroded, as Guardiola’s theories – admittedly, drawn from Marcelo Bielsa – are mimicked and redesigned.
Not only does the Manchester City manager enhance players, he does the same with individuals in the dugout, and Ancelotti, unfortunately, got left behind.