Pep’s Boys Won, Yet Lost
“I’ve done the best I can do,” said the Bayern Munich manager, searching for the best way to convey his feelings after his side were eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. “I don’t have any regrets. I’ve done my best and, I don’t know — that’s what I would like to say.”
–ESPN FC, Nick Ames
There is some disillusioned beer drinking occurring in Bavaria tonight.
Despite a spirited, thrilling second leg of Bayern Munich’s Champions League semi-final against Atlético Madrid (one missed penalty by both teams at the same end shooting to the same side), the Bavarian kings could not score that necessary third goal. Though Thomas Müller had his shot/PK.
Rightly or wrongly, the fact that Pep Guardiola went 0-3 for winning the Champions League will define his mostly successful, victorious venture in Munich.
“In his first campaign he collected the UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, German Cup and, with a record seven games to spare, the Bundesliga title. He secured his second successive Bundesliga title by ten points the following season…”
Even with all of this, Pep’s time at Bayern Munich will be viewed by many as a losing campaign. The German giants won a lot throughout the past three years, but they lost the most important games with the acclaimed Pep Guardiola as the manager.
The coaching mastermind behind Barcelona’s epic run from 2008-2012 could not defeat Spanish sides Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atlético Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals during his three years coaching Bayern Munich. If it weren’t for Mr. Guardiola’s public intention to sign with Manchester City this upcoming season, the cliché “3 strikes and you’re out” would be an aptly borrowed metaphor from the sport’s baseball counterpart.
In Pep’s case, trying to craft a winning strategy for his third consecutive Bundesliga title and a German Cup championship is what remains as achievable goals this season. For most, that would be enough. Most, however, are not named Pep Guardiola.
The expectations for Pep moving to Munich, Germany after his yearlong break following his exit from Barcelona were sky-high. Actually, if there’s a place above sky-high, that would be more appropriate.
Pep’s spell at Barcelona has been labeled as one of the greatest club teams in history with one of the best players in history being Lionel Messi. Everyone knew Pep would win in Germany, but people expected him to win everything with soccer itself gasping for air at his conquests wearing sharp suits (and lederhosen for beer drinking). Granted, Jupp Heynckes didn’t do Pep any favors by leading Bayern Munich to the prized treble (included the Champions League title) literally before his arrival in Bavaria.
Mr. Heynckes sort of served his successor a championship team on a platter.
Each coach has different tactics that require different types of players, so maybe Mr. Heynckes did or didn’t leave Pep with everything he needed. That’s a debate that will continue. In the macro, Pep’s inability to win his first season with a remarkably similar squad was disappointing, but understandable if his style of play and injection of “his” players led to a championship(s) down the road.
Sadly, those two subsequent titles never arrived, which means Bayern fans never got to enjoy the immediate or prolonged Guardiola magic in Champions League. This is a failure that will not soon be forgotten and incoming manager Carlo Ancelotti (56) will be tasked with solving this puzzle with one of the best rosters on the planet.
The young innovator makes way for the elder statesman.
Pep Guardiola was hired to win trebles. Yes, that’s trebles plural. Fair or not, that’s the truth. The pain, suffering, talent, patience, resilience and magic-in-a-bottle needed to win one treble qualifies for a lifetime of glorious storytelling and recounting in your local pub.
Just ask Jupp Heynckes.
For loyal Bayern Munich fans, like myself, the pain of today’s 2-1 win at home at the Allianz Arena in front of 75,000 fans (but 2-2 aggregate loss to Atlético Madrid) in devastatingly heart-pounding fashion will not heal for some time. The infinitely popular question, “how did they not win?” will not merely focus on this season, but will fiercely grab onto the past two seasons of mirror image outcomes and never let go.
Some may argue that Pep can finally breathe a little easier now. The German press will continue to crush him, sure, but the pressure has been eased a bit.
Quite the contrary.
If Man City pulls off a miracle and wins the Champions League this year, Pep will experience precisely the same high-pressure situation in England, except to a harsher extent. Even if Man City fails to pull off said miracle, the situation is practically identical. He won the biggest prize at Barcelona and not at Bayern Munich. That’s resulted in a knock to his other-worldly aura. If he cannot deliver the biggest prize at Man City, then it’s probably fair to anticipate another sabbatical.
Pep Guardiola is a world-class manager and a brilliant tactician, but he now finds himself in a concerning loop of Champions League semi-final shortcomings to Spanish squads.
And the only way out, at this point, looks as trying as breaking through Atlético Madrid’s back line for goal number three.