“I am coach of Bayern. I am grateful to be here,” Pep Guardiola said.
Ahead of the German Supercup, the Spaniard found himself in the unique position of having to talk about his third opportunity to win the trophy for the first time as Bayern Munich coach. The journalists at the pre-match press conference proceeded to get the obvious out of the way. They asked him where he saw himself this time next year, to which the reply was: “I have not yet decided what the best thing for the club is, but I am doing my best and I will do my best.”
It is a situation that the Bavarians barely expected when they announced him in 2013, but Guardiola is threatening to grow into a problem. “This is the first and the last time that I will talk about it,” he declared, showing little inclination towards renewing his contract in Bavaria, which runs out next June. That new deal will probably go unsigned, with rumours of a massive Manchester City offer continuing apace.
The silence has been allowed to grow to the point of becoming deafening this summer. He who says nothing, reveals something, after all.
The next day, Bayern went on to lose the season curtain-raiser 5-4 on penalties to Wolfsburg after it finished 1-1 inside 90 minutes. Neither the Bundesliga champions nor their coach will miss the Supercup trophy; but the lack of a distraction to bring to an end the stories in the media pointing to an inevitable split will be felt.
By the time Nicklas Bendtner cancelled out Arjen Robben’s opener late on and Xabi Alonso had missed the decisive spot-kick, Guardiola was back in front of the microphones. “We haven’t played badly,” the 44-year-old consoled, missing the point that Bayern, with their late collapses and penalty pains, have not been very Bayern lately. “We’ll just have to ensure we win the Bundesliga now to get another shot at the Supercup,” Manuel Neuer remarked casually.
9 – FC Bayern have now lost more German Super Cup matches (5 incl. penalty shoot-outs) than they have won (4). Surprising.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) August 3, 2015
Whether Guardiola will be around to get that shot, the German No. 1 didn’t say, and defeat is more damaging than Bayern will admit, regardless of the trophy’s modest importance.
Die Roten never tire of winning and now need a few for themselves. The team has been at desperately low ebb ever since last season ended in calamitous Champions League and DFB-Pokal exits, few previous results exposing flaws like the defeats in those semi-finals. A lone Bundesliga triumph in March feels a long time ago and the introspection continued beyond the season’s close and into the players’ holidays.
It was a deserved break after a gruelling campaign, especially for Bayern’s German World Cup-winning contingent, but the Sabener Strasse training complex had never been a more welcome sight than when pre-season begun at the start of July. The answers would come on the pitch now, the Supercup an opportunity to prove just that. And Bayern, in increasingly un-German fashion, duly proceeded to miss it.
An obvious target for anger has materialised. Questions over identity have inevitably surfaced under Guardiola. Entering his third year at the helm now, there is no doubt this is the ex-Barcelona mastermind’s team. But is it still Bayern?
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Against Wolfsburg, they betrayed their own insecurities against a side resistant to intimidation. Failure to convert scoring chances, then conceding the late equaliser at the Volkswagen Arena, hinted at Bayern’s inability to play with ice in their veins and succumbing on penalties questions their confidence as much as their technique.
The more Bayern attempt to control games, the less capable they seem of killing them off. Supplanting the steel and resolve that defined the 2013 vintage which captured the Treble with a possession-based approach has not been universally embraced by supporters. It is a formula that allowed Guardiola to clinch a Treble of his own in 2009, and follow it up with another Champions League trophy two years later. What the Bayern faithful reject, however, is being chained to an ideal in style, when it takes precedence over the objective of winning matches and, ultimately, silverware.
Their appreciation ends when Guardiola surrenders to the temptation to tinker with formations and roles. It leads to exacerbation when he allows thinly-veiled biases to rise to the surface, marginalising talented youngsters like Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and iconic figures such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, while persisting with Alonso in the starting XI despite the regularity of the fading veteran’s gaffes. Fans border on the furious when players are expected to wear their commitment regularly in training and during matches as a badge, while their coach’s long-term allegiance to the club remains questionable at best.
“I will never become a burden for Bayern,” the 44-year-old insisted at the pre-Supercup press conference. But the drawn-out saga over his future, among other factors, has unwittingly transformed him into one. He has departed from being the man who charmed reporters by speaking his first words as Bayern coach in German at his presentation in 2013, descending into the vicious spiral of cat-and-mouse with the press. Less and less, Guardiola explains or reassures questions raised over his decisions, and treats enquiries about tactical or personal plans as intrusions.
Guardiola says he hasn’t decided yet on his future @FCBayern. I wd suggest no decision IS a decision.
— Matt Smith (@msmith850) July 31, 2015
In May, club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was forced to deny there was an anti-Guardiola trend in society, although the Spaniard’s verbal jousts with Bayern legends Lothar Matthaus and Stefan Effenberg were a source of public embarrassment. For now, the Bavarians publicly reiterate their faith in their man, hoping to prolong his stay at the Allianz beyond his current deal.
Their success this season hinges on their boss’ well-being and clarity of mind. Even if it’s unclear what more Pep wants, despite enjoying a lavish allotment of disposable income and a freedom to stamp his vision on the way Bayern play. Regardless, the club remain convinced that no one is better placed to deliver than Guardiola.
“If you want to know what I want in life and from my work, I want to be loved, I do not seek more. That’s what I want, that’s a feeling,” Guardiola revealed at a lecture on leadership in June. “Really, I’m not looking for titles.”
“He will get the fans’ love when he wins trophies,” honourary Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer said in response.
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