Bayern Munich’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummennigge wasn’t at the launch of his club’s new kit to hear the jeers from a number of supporters, but he did say he expected it. “I don’t know if they were booing Bayern Munich or just the transfer itself” he told Bild, referring to the exit of Bastian Schweinsteiger to Manchester United.
The midfielder, who had won everything with Bayern over 13 years and the friendly face who drank in the local pub and played with friends in the park, ‘Schweini’ – as he is endearingly known to Bayern loyalists – was suddenly leaving Bavaria, where he holds saint-like status, behind.
Rummennigge, who himself served the German giants for a decade, would have empathised with Bayern’s supporters and would have braced himself for the reaction. He would have been aware that Schweinsteiger was extremely difficult to replace, if not for his expertise on the pitch but for the admiration and worship he received off it.
Juventus’ 28 year old Arturo Vidal has been identified as the on-field replacement however, in a move that at first glance is most unlike Pep Guardiola. Analyse it to more detail however and it takes on greater levels of curiosity.
Anathema to the graceful ball-movers that the Spaniard usually prefers, Vidal will bring with him tenacity and the raw aggression that earned him 49 bookings in his four years in Italy. Guardiola may be directing Bayern to a shift in style, but with the 44 year old entering the last year of his contract at the Allianz Arena, those fond of a conspiracy theory may query if Bayern are preparing for life without the coach.
If Guardiola is to bow out at the end of his three-year deal, his time will be unfulfilled if he fails, at the third attempt, to secure the Champions League that Jupp Heynckes discovered couldn’t prevent him from being shuffled aside to make way for the Catalan.
The box of Bundesliga supremacy has been ticked emphatically, but humbling defeats to Spanish opposition on the continent has left a sour taste in the mouths of the hierarchy, who may have even handed Guardiola a show of strength by sanctioning the sale of Schweinsteiger. The politics may be uncertain, but this coming season is undoubtedly pivotal for Guardiola.
The Dhs120 million (€30m) signing of Brazilian attacking midfielder Douglas Costa from Shakhtar Donetsk suggests he is looking for an injection of pace and he would also get that in abundance from Vidal, who operated as the legs for Andrea Pirlo at Juventus.
With Schweinsteiger the one to be offloaded from a glut of Bayern midfielders who all appear so similar – Phillip Lahm, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez and Xabi Alonso – Vidal will offer much-needed bite and steel. Guardiola may envisage the Chilean, supported by Alcantara, doing the same dogged shielding job he did for Pirlo at Juve with Alonso.
Given his senior Chile debut by the revolutionary Marcelo Bielsa and a vital cog in the exciting teams of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the latter under Jorge Sampaoli which eliminated Spain and nearly did for Brazil, Vidal’s education in the persistent pressing game will appeal to Guardiola, who coached it so effectively at Barcelona.
He attempted the most tackles (134) at Juventus last season and won the ball back through challenges and interceptions at a rate of 4.7 per game, stats that will be alluring to Bayern’s studious coach.
Vidal also won this year’s Copa America under Sampaoli’s tutelage, earning himself a place in the team of the tournament, a consolation prize for the failure to secure a Champions League for Juventus under Massimiliano Allegri, whose focus on relentless hard-work secured a league and cup double.
It was Vidal’s fourth successive league title in Italy and a Dhs168 million (€40m) move, with Juve recouping funds after renovating their squad with Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Simone Zaza and Roberto Pereyra in a spree which has exceeded £60 million, sees him join a side who enjoy a similar level of domestic dominance. It will be on the continent that will provide the true test of his pedigree and mettle.
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It will not always be pretty; Vidal is a persistent fouler and will too often walk the tightrope between the yellow and a second red card, but perhaps for once the idealist in Guardiola isn’t searching for aesthetics.
He will be asking Vidal to prowl fiercely around his midfield to allow his possession-artists to operate, and to drive an irrepressible will to win, the same kind that got Carlos Zambrano of Peru sent-off in the Copa America semi-final. With Vidal in it, Bayern won’t have the same team that bowed with a whimper to both Real Madrid and Barcelona over the course of the past two seasons.
For a reasonable fee in this current market, Vidal will provide a satisfactory replacement for Schweinsteiger and is three years the German’s junior. Though regardless of how much of a fighter he is on the field or how much he work he ploughs through in his midfield station, replacing Schweinsteiger’s Bavarian void will be way beyond him.
Adam Gray writes for O-Posts.com
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