Can Pep Guardiola ever win the Champions League again with a team other than FC Barcelona?

August 18, 2020

Written 15th May 2016

After an extremely successful time with several titles at Barcelona Pep Guardiola became coach of Bayern Munich in 2013. This position was only his second job as chief manager, and it came at a club that has been historically as successful as his former club. The Bavarians had played the most successful season of their club history just before Guradiola’s arrival, as they managed to win the historical triple under manager Jupp Heynckes in 2013.

So what did Guardiola do?

He, from the beginning wrongly estimated the strengths of the Bayern team. Their success under Heynckes was based on the idea that tactics and the individual strengths of the players must be balanced to gain the best result. This was the team that completely thrashed Barcelona 7:0 in 2013. Although Guardiola was not the manager of Barcelonas at that point anymore, he had successfully developed their so- called Tiki Taka possession football. However, Heynckes had already found a way to counter this type of football.

After Pep Guardiola started his new job in Munich, he dismantled the old winning team and changed Jupp Heyncke’s highly successful football, which was based on lightning fast counter attacks, in favour of his Tiki Taka possession football.

Guardiola’s recklessness and fixation on his own ideas became quickly clear when he allowed Toni Kroos to leave for Real Madrid, where he became one of the most important players. Guradiola’s excuse that Kroos wanted to move to Madrid was a poor one, as every experienced manager would have done everything to keep this type of player.

Was it a great idea to let Bastian Schweinsteiger leave for Manchester United? As an substitute during the 2nd half time, he might still have made a difference in important games. During the World Cup 2014 he was one of Germany’s most important players. A very good coach needs more than footballing, tactical and psychological skills. He also needs a vision and the insight that a player like Schweinsteiger can still be decisive in big games.

Frequently, it was reported in the German sports press that a less efficient and expensive coach than Pep Guardiola would have had a similar level of success with the Bavarians because of their squad strength.

Only the Champions League was a real challenge for this team. During phase of the Cahmpions League, the player quality is often fairly balanced so that the team will eventually win that follows the subsequent rules.

1.) Superior tactical planning. The tactic arises mainly from the tactic the coach deploys in previous games, and after the coach and his technical staff scout the opponent. If possession football is played primarily during practice, then it may happen that the other refinements of tactical football, such as the counterattack game may be neglected. In a real game situation, it than becomes harder to play any tactics that you have not previously trained. The players often have problems to adapt to unusual tactics in such cases.

2.) There must be a working team game where everyone knows what and when and where he has to do.

3.) The coach has to realize that when only one position on the field is occupied by the wrong player, this may create a disturbance by the factor of 10% for the whole team.

4.) A team that wins important finals has the following traits: players have to play regularly together, and they also have to get along well on the pitch and outside of the pitch. The coach must implement a 100% all-embracing fair play system. It is also important to keep the energy level high during elimination part of a tournament. The coach is responsible for these qualities. It is doubtful whether winning the Bundesliga so early under Guardiola was positive, as the Champions League was always lost in the 3 subsequent semi finals where the team would have needed to maintain a high level of tension.

Since the rules above have not been respected to a large extent by Pep Guardiola, he has come short in the last 3 semi-finals against Real, Barcelona, Atletico and against their coaches Ancelotti, Luis Enrique, and Diego Simeone.

The last match against Atletico was lost because Pep had forgotten that in the knockout format of the Champions League, the first game is often the decisive one. The fact that for tactical reasons, he did not include Müller in the starting line up, in the first leg in Madrid was a serious mistake. After all, the duo Lewandowski- Müller was next to Suarez and Neymar the most prolific forward pair in Europe. The negative psychological effect this had on Thomas Müller in the second game came can also not be ignored.

There are experts who believe that Pep Guardiola has made many players better. We do not agree. At this level, players should increasingly train their strengths. Any changes that affect the hard learned automation, must first be placed on the scale before being implemented.

Therefore, such changes should always be done with caution. Many of Guardiola’s players have not been positioned according to their strengths. For example Philipp Lahm, one of the best defensive players in the world, played in midfield on an average level. Where he belongs was shown during the World Cup in Brazil. Namely according to his skills in the defense. Even Robert Lewandowski was only able to reach his peak level at Bayern after Robben had been injured. This happened without the support of Pep Guardiola. The increasing irrelevance of Mario Goetze is on his cap as well. It is difficult to imagine that one of the greatest talents of the past 50 years could not succeed at Bayern. It can be expected that the coach clarifies whether he believes in a player or not. If not, he should be allowed to switch to another club. The coach has the power to unsettle every player. We would like to see Messi or Ronaldo after a coach tells these world class players that they might miss an important game, and in doing so would send out signals that he does not believe in these players.

The rule that some people prefer to be right over having success applies to Pep Guardiola as well.

When shopping for new players he also did not show a lucky hand very often if we look at Xabi Alonso, Benatia, Bernat. Only the purchases of Kingsley Coman and Arturo Vidal were good investments. By then it was already too late.

Overall, we must admit that not everything was bad. Pep brought certainly a lot of international reputation to the Bundesliga. He also managed to get good results against the only real opponent in the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund.

Nevertheless, we expected more, especially in the Champions League. If Pep Guardiola had nurtured the natural strengths of his team, he would very likely have won at least one Champions League title, instead of reaching only 3 semi-finals. We will watch out if Pep Guradiola can establish himself at Manchester City. One thing is clear. International success for him is compulsolry at City, if he does achieve that, he will lose his position as the most highly rated and sought after football coach in the world.