Despite a DFB-Pokal match and a Bundesliga match now behind them, Bayern Munich's friendly season is not quite over. On Monday they undertake a benefit match against Dynamo Dresden, one that is supposed to help the third-tier club get back on its feat.
As charitable as Bayern are being, the club apparently wants to make sure Dynamo Dresden is charitable on the field as well. Pep Guardiola reportedly dispatched a videographer to receive intel on Dresden's 3. Liga match against Rot-Weiß Erfurt. This was not for tactical reasons though; this was supposedly to get insight on how physical Dresden's tackles are.
Bild believes Guardiola was interested in two players in particular, center backs Giuliano Modica and Michael Hefele. Both defenders have a record of physical play. Hefele, for instance, collected 13 yellow cards in 31 appearances in the 3. Liga last season, including a double-yellow. Dresden manager Uwe Neuhaus, shocked at the mini recon project, called out Guardiola for "spying" on his team.
"It shows Guardiola's professionalism," said Neuhaus.
A move like this from Guardiola has precedent, at least it must in his mind. A week and a half ago, he watched Joshua Kimmich have to leave in the Audi Cup after AC Milan's Nigel de Jong took Bayern's €8.5 million purchase out on a reckless challenge. Guardiola called out AC Milan's captain before the second half, and condemned the style of play in his post-match press conference.
The year before, Guardiola infamously declined he handshake of Portland Timber's manager Caleb Porter after the 2014 MLS All-Star Game. Porter's midfielder Will Johnson injured Bastain Schweinsteiger's ankle on a slide tackle late in the match.
In both cases, Guardiola was lambasted for his behavior. Porter mocked the All-Star Game incident in his ice bucket challenge, and AC Milan coach Siniša Mihajlović quickly dismissed the issue, saying "this is not ballet."
At the end of the day, one cannot blame Guardiola for wanting to protect his players. Injuries are frustrating no matter when they occur, but in friendlies injuries seem like they are more avoidable. Friendlies and exhibitions are designed to assist teams with seasonal preparations and/or to showcase a club's players for a good cause. Nonetheless, the feel of friendlies in recent years appear incrementally more like matches with tangible ramifications.
How much has the protocol of friendlies changed? Does Guardiola, and Bayern by extension, have an outdated perception of how an exhibition match should unfold?
It would be shallow and narcissistic for Bayern to say themselves, but not many get the chance to play one of the biggest sports clubs in the world very often. One has to just look at the buzz in Nöttingen before the first round of the DFB-Pokal to see the honor clubs have when they invite the Rekordmesiter to their ground.
Add to that esteem the fruitful profitability of a victory against Bayern, a club filled with World Cup winners and top class players. Imagine the publicity boos Dresdent would receive if their goal total was higher than Bayern's in the Dresden Neuste Nachrichten. Can two player such as Modica and Hefele, who had more yellow cards than all of Bayern's defenders combined last season, control their adrenaline in the opportunity of a lifetime?
Relentless physicality, one seen in players such as De Jong or Johnson, may be hard to repress as it is. Part of the footballer maturation process is to develop the work rate and the militancy it takes to play at the top level. That switch can be difficult to turn off, especially in a player who is trying to prove himself against a club like Bayern.
The time may have come for Guardiola to accept this aspect of football as a universal in exhibition. With competitiveness now at a premium, friendlies are no longer going to be strolls in a park with a football occasionally at a player's feet, nor should it be. Bayern players leave their feet in friendlies all the time, so why should their opponents do any less?
All footballers are at risk of injury whenever they strap on their cleats, and it starts the moment a referee blows his or her whistle. Guardiola needs to change the way he thinks about friendlies, and understand the limitations he has to protect his players.