After winning the treble of the Bundesliga title, the DFB Cup and the UEFA Champions League under Jupp Heynckes in 2012/13, Bayern Munich were rightly acclaimed as one of the best sides in the world. Nevertheless, Heynckes’ contract was not renewed, and so since the beginning of the current campaign, the coaching reigns at Germany’s record title-winners have been held by Pep Guardiola.
Thus far, the transition appears to have been seamless. At the season’s outset, the Reds lifted the UEFA Super Cup by beating Chelsea, and just last weekend, equalled a 30-year record held by SV Hamburg of going 36 Bundesliga matches unbeaten. The next title on the agenda for the 42-year-old former midfield strategist is the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013.
“It’s a very prestigious tournament,” explained Guardiola to FIFA.com. “It isn’t easy to reach this competition and then win it. On top of that, it’s also a final, and a final is always something special. Winning is everything. That’s why we’re here.”
The feeling in Munich is one of immense joy that the most successful coach of recent years has signed for the club until 2016. Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge described FIFA’s Coach of the Year in 2011 as the best coach Bayern had ever had, with perhaps his biggest asset his attention to detail and meticulous approach.
Constant presence on the touchlineGuardiola spends just a few minutes of each game in his seat on the bench. For much of the 90 minutes he patrols his technical area, gesticulating animatedly to his players. The same is true at the training ground, where, switching between German and English, he explains every individual action to his players, often interrupting sessions to get his message across. Moreover, he often joins in the exercises himself, demonstrating his ideas to the squad.
Preparing for and analysing the opposition is one of Guardiola’s most important tasks. During the last international break in October, he worked overtime at the club’s training ground, despite having the vast majority of his players away with their national teams.
Guardiola is nothing if not fastidious in his analysis of opponents, and neither does he wish to leave anything to chance at the Club World Cup in December. For away matches in the Champions League, Bayern always arrive at their destination a day in advance of games. This time, however, their plane departs as early as December 14, directly after their league game against Hamburg and three days before their tournament opener in Agadir on December 17. “It’s a long journey and the players must keep their heads clear. We need to get used to the climate, the country and the pitches.”
Guardiola will not break with tradition even if Bayern reach the final in Marrakech, as the coach plans to give his players time to see the city’s sights – even if he himself may not have the same luxury. “If we have to spend a good few days somewhere, they (the players) shouldn’t stay in their rooms the whole time. It’s good for them to have a look around the city to help them concentrate on the next game. I don’t know if I’ll have time for that myself, though, as I’ll be preparing for our next opponents.”
Gratitude towards HeynckesMany experts took the view that Guardiola, a two-time winner of the Club World Cup, would have Bayern playing the same brand of football that his previous club Barcelona excelled at. The coach made it clear, however, that he had no intention of creating a second Barcelona in Munich. Rather, his idea is to adapt himself to the club and its players. In terms of tactics and style of football, differences can already be seen: the use of a 4-1-4-1 formation, with only one holding midfielder in front of the defence and two very centrally positioned full-backs whenever the opposition have possession, are probably the most significant changes he has implemented. And where there has been continuity, Guardiola has put a greater emphasis on certain things, such as on pressing high up the pitch, which Bayern now do to an even greater extent than last season.
Putting the opposition under early pressure is a tactic Guardiola intends to employ in Morocco, where the coach readily admits he would not be without his predecessor. “In life, you don’t often get the opportunity to take part in this competition. I’m very grateful that I can be here, and I can only thank Jupp Heynckes and my team for that.”
In recent years, the Club World Cup has been held in Japan and the United Arab Emirates, and Guardiola is happy that in 2013, the venue is somewhat closer to Europe and Germany. “I think it’s a good idea by FIFA to have the tournament in a different country every year.”
And though the former Barcelona man will be hoping to lead his side to victory in Morocco, he has the utmost respect for the other competitors they will face there, even if some are little known in Europe. “We have to do our homework,” he said as our chat concluded, an ominous warning for anyone familiar with Guardiola’s attention to detail.