He needed to win, and he won.
Pep Guardiola's 100-day tenure as FC Bayern München manager reached a pinnacle in his side's 3-1 win against Manchester City.
A man whose bearded face is intimidation enough to people who criticize his practices, Guardiola passed on jobs in England to do a job no man has done before: make a manager who retired a treble champion, Jupp Heynckes, seem obsolete. Nobody would have guessed that Bayern, under Pep's orchestration, would recommence a trophy campaign better than a treble-winning season.
No, the 2013 DFL Supercup is not in Munich, and a late equalizer in SC Freiburg broke a chance to mirror the eight-win start in the Bundesliga. The counterbalance to those short comings include a dramatic UEFA Super Cup win and two consecutive UEFA Champions League wins, one against the runner-up of the Barclays Premier League.
Guardiola's feather-ruffling and tile-shuffling – mainly in events that culminated into "The Experiment" and "The Conversion" – highlight his reluctance to surrender to establishment while reminding his detractors that he does, in fact, know what he's doing
Guardiola rattled the fabric of the FC Bayern universe when he repositioned Philipp Lahm into midfield, a role that he has not played since his early reserve days. The consequential move was to grab Rafinha, who made only eight appearances in all competitions in 2012/13, and thrust him back into a starting role.
On the outside, "The Experiment" looked more like blasphamy rather than brilliance. If any other first-year manager took arguably the best right-back in the world out of defense and into the center of midfield, he would be ridiculed, scolded, and ostrocized. Despite the head-scratching from the audience, Guardiola's gamble remained a go.
What started as a harmless experiment to improve squad depth has turned into a viable option for a team-sheet selection. The 26-year-old Rafinha has a World Cup roster spot to push him forward, and Lahm has provided unparalleled intelligence and tactical flexibility to a midfield ravaged by injury.
While outsiders bewilder themselves with the revelation of the lineup shuffle, Guardiola can just sit back and smile. The precision of the procedure was too seamless to deny that "The Experiment" was just a shuffle in necessity. Guardiola had the plot all written out, no cliffhangers, no loose ends.
The summer of 2013 came with big trade winds, blowing all across Europe. Even the Säbener Straße could not avoid the storm, with the winds of Robert Lewandowski ferocious and frivolous. Inside camp, the summer provided a more serious, sustainable, and stimulating storyline: the introduction of the 4-1-4-1.
If "The Experiment" just turned some heads, "The Conversion" broke some necks.
With every new managerial selection, a club sees some sort of change, the appointee imprinting his brand of football. The contemporariness of FC Bayern's success exacerbated "The Conversion", and some player comments did not help the situation.
"The 4-1-4-1 system is weird," Franck Ribery told Bild at the beginning of the season. "It's new, it's completely different. We need to train, talk and learn to perfect it. It's normal that the coach wants to try things."
Eventually, the new arrangement had a new opportunity to gel, providing positional and strategical freedom. Players press higher up the field as before, and control even more possession than last year.
"His ideas are unbelievable, he is a coach who knows exactly how the players feel and think," said Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The possibility remains that Guardiola is a fourth-dimensional football mind. He does not think in terms of what ideas are dominating world football now, but the subsequent ideology, adaptable and customized, that changes the perception of how the game is played.
To that end, the 4-2-3-1 may have been a dead end for him, and the 4-1-4-1 was the enterprising formation where his designs can manifest.
The next 100 days
While FC Bayern have English heavyweights disposed of, there is still the matter of the competitions before him.
The next 100 days brings Guardiola to January 3rd: the winter break in Germany, the reopening of the January transfer window, four UEFA Champions League matches, the DFB Pokal third round, and eleven Bundesliga matchdays. Bayern still have to face Jürgen Klopp, rematch against Manuel Pellegrini, and travel to Morocco for the FIFA Club World Cup.
For the first time, Guardiola will have to undertake man-management dilemmas instead of minimal rotational selections. He will have to partition the pertinent amount of pitch-time to the wounded striving for fitness, as well as continue to test the latitude of his players' positions to make sure the jigsaw puzzle fits together the right way.
Guardiola has only one trophy, a UEFA Super Cup, in his FC Bayern trophy case, and is not out of the woods for opprobrium. He has, however, bought himself the patience to install his vision, at least for another 100 days.
He has won, and he needs to continue winning.