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Can Guardiola succeed without Vilanova?

Simon Harrow examines the choice and prospects of Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich.

It has been comical over the last few days to see the European press as a whole - and the British press in particular - turn cartwheels to discover Pep Guardiola’s next destination.

Would it be Chelsea? No it’s Manchester City. Of course not, it’s Milan! In the end it was Bayern Munich: a side which has seemingly shed itself of the psychological trauma caused by Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga titles over the last two seasons.

As I write, Bayern have won 14 of their 18 league matches, lost 1 and are nine points clear at the top. If that weren’t enough, the club nicknamed FC Hollywood by the German press have won their Champions League group this season and, let’s not forget, reached the final of the competition last year.

Thus, Pep has his work cut out to follow on from Jupp Heynckes next August. Some say that Guardiola was wrong to leave Barcelona in the first place, given the team he had, the academy and the general set-up – Sir Alex Ferguson, for one described the decision as “silly”.

However, that judgement brushes over the huge pressures of being coach of FC Barcelona – especially when the coach is Catalan.

For many Catalans, the club is a surrogate for the national team that is not permitted to compete at the highest level. There are two daily sports newspapers, a Catalan-language television station and two local radio stations dedicated to all things Barça.

On top of that, there’s the national and international media. Pep had long since told his family that he was tired of the circus, and in his departing press conference he admitted that four years as manager was an eternity.

It could be argued that Guardiola has made a like-for-like change. Bayern do have a settled squad, apparently plenty of money to spend and a reasonable youth system.

Also, it is hardly an anonymous club, though it does not outwardly seem to be under the same level of scrutiny.

Yet, there are some other important factors missing. To start with, Pep knew FC Barcelona inside-out. He had learnt his football there, from starting out in its famed academy to being captain of the first team.

His season as coach of Barcelona B in 2007-08 informed him of the potential of players such as Pedro and Busquets. It also opened his eyes to the weaknesses of the first team, which finished 18 points behind Real Madrid – notably the attitudes of Ronaldinho and Deco.

He saw his B-team players as being able to offer so much more. Another important missing part is Tito Vilanova. Apart from advocating and coaching Barcelona’s high defensive line and demoralising possession football, he was also instrumental in using the 3-4-3 formation to be employed and for Messi to act as a false number nine.

Barcelona’s start to the season already suggests Tito can succeed without Pep. But can Pep succeed without Tito? I have my doubts.

image: © gowestphoto

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