For Pep, It’s Champions League or Bust
With Pep Guardiola’s time as Bayern FC’s coach coming to a close at the end of this season, all sights are set on the champions league. With an upcoming match on their home pitch against Benfica after shutting them out on April 5, the chances of advancing for Bayern look strong.
Moving past Benfica into the semi-finals would be a cause worth celebrating for fans, of course, but for Pep, it’s championship or bust.
Guardiola has a history of winning. As a player, Pep played for Barcelona, where he played defensive midfield for the “Dream Team” that won four consecutive La Liga titles between 1991 and 1994, capping it off with a European Cup win in 1992. Since retiring after the 2006 season, his success has’t stopped.
When Pep began his coaching career with the Barcelona B team, he quickly made a name for himself by coming out on top of the Tercera Division and earning a Segunda Division playoffs appearance. The next season, Guardiola was given the reins of the senior Barcelona squad, which he guided to a Champions League victory that same year. Between 2009 and 2013 he accumulated what seemed like an endless supply of trophies and cups with the Catalans, securing his spot as a premier manager.
In the three years since coming to Bayern, however, he has failed to advance past the semifinals in Champions League. Now in his final season as manager, will coming up short once again stain Guardiola’s reputation?
History at Bayern
With an incredibly rich history of success and wide regard as one of the best football coaches today, Guardiola has taken over a Bayern squad in recent years and retooled the team to fit his style.
After his hiring in 2013 he found success, winning the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. However that same year, Bayern was dismantled in the semifinals of the Champions league by Real Madrid, losing the first leg 1-0 and the second by a whopping 4-0. The DFB-Pokal final victory that Pep won was a sweet ending to an otherwise disappointing 2013-2014 season.
The 2014 season started off with a move that came as a surprise to fans when Guardiola sold Mario Mandžukić to Atletico Madrid. Another disappointing end to the season came in the fashion of the club’s second straight Champions League semifinal loss, this one at the hands of his former club Barcelona.
Now with the 2015 season winding down, eyes are on Guardiola as his final shot at a Champions League victory with Bayern is on the line.
Is a Champions League Loss a Failure?
For some, getting to the Champions League semis is a win in and of itself. It shows hard work on behalf of your club, a willingness to adapt to changes or overcome injuries (Robben, perhaps) and an unrelenting desire to win. It requires a talented team and a knowledgeable, skilled coach. Bayern has both. So why haven’t they gotten there, and what does that mean for Pep?
With such a long record of winning, when Pep took over as manager of Bayern in 2013 it seemed as though his 2009 Champions League win would quickly be joined by a few others. Pep has won, and he’s won a lot. He won as a player and he won as the coach of Barcelona for years. He’s won games and cups and trophies with Bayern, but the marked absence of a Champions League win has sullied his otherwise glowing managerial record.
Can Guardiola’s time as Bayern’s manager–a time that is growing shorter and shorter as we speak–be considered a success with anything but a win this season? My thinking is an unfortunate “no.”
When coaches are brought in, particularly following a Champions League victory as Pep was in 2013, they’re brought in to win on the sport’s largest stage. Three first place finishes would be nice, as would the UEFA and FIFA cups he’s lead Bayern to, as well as the country championship he won in 2013. But without a Championship League victory in the books for 2015-2016, Pep and the rest of Bayern will likely view his tenure at the head of the German club as a disappointment.