Former Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola recently sat down for an interview with pundit and ex-professional Jan Aage Fjörtoft for Viaplay TV (as heard through Sport Bild) in which he described some of the early struggles he experienced shortly after taking charge of FC Bayern.
“I remember that we won a lot of games to start the season - but we played terribly. It really wasn’t good when you consider the incredible quality of players Bayern had back then.”
Coming off of a record-setting treble-winning 2012/13 season, Jupp Heynckes left the incoming Pep Guardiola with a tough act to follow.
“The start was anything but easy as they’d just won the treble with Mr. Heynckes. So then when you want to change something, it’s a little more difficult, because the players will then say ‘Why should we change something? Why don’t we keep doing as we’ve done in the past?’ And that’s normal and how it should be, but I also don’t know how they did it in the past; I wasn’t there.”
Anecdotally speaking, this was a common complaint heard amongst many Bayern fans at the time as well, accusing Pep of “trying to reinvent the wheel” or “fixing what isn’t broken.” In the eyes of many, Guardiola had thrown a wrench into a well-oiled machine and tried to change too much to impose his own style rather than simply continuing on with what had previously worked for the team. In hindsight, however, Pep perhaps sees it the other way: it’s not that he tried to change too much too fast, but that he took too long to implement his changes and/or didn’t change things up quite enough.
“Every coach is a bit different,” continued Guardiola. “After they won the treble, I thought it would be best if I adapted to them a little bit, and they adapted to me a little bit as well.”
Sport Bild’s Niels Körner went on to suggest that Guardiola seemed to imply that he should have instead dared to try and impose his ideas and style of play even earlier than he did.
This tension between changing too much and not changing enough was perhaps felt most keenly following Bayern Munich’s lopsided 0:5 aggregate defeat to Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid in the 2014 UCL semifinals. Then-captain Philipp Lahm revealed years later that Pep had consulted his players on how they should approach the second leg against Madrid following an 0:1 first leg defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu:
“He called six of us to him before the game and asked us how we wanted to play. Back then, Pep Guardiola believed the players must be comfortable. Therefore, he agreed to play how the team wanted to play...After that defeat, it was portrayed like his system didn’t work. In reality, it wasn’t his system at all. Everyone should have been able to spot that it could have never been Pep’s game...He’ll probably never [consult his players on tactics] again.”
In the end, the Catalan coach left Bayern Munich for Manchester City in 2016, having won three Bundesliga titles, two Pokal titles, the UEFA Supercup, the FIFA Club World Cup.
Overall, in general I find myself remembering Pep’s time in Munich quite fondly, though I must admit that it will always be a bit disappointing that we never managed to win the Champions League title with him at the helm after appearing in three consecutive semifinals. How do you feel about Pep’s time at Bayern? Sound off in the comments below!