This article is part of a partnership with Grup 14, an organization dedicated to Futbol Club Barcelona and supporters around the world. The Pep Episodes is created by Alex Truica and originally published at Grup14.com.
If Pep Guardiola would read this, he’d probably be mad. After the thrilling encounter against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday (0:0), the lasting picture was how he talked to Joshua Kimmich right after the final whistle in the middle of the pitch. Guardiola draped his arm over the shoulders of the young talent, then he emotionally shaked, hugged and lectured Kimmich. After he did some pep talk to the young German, Guardiola addressed the media when the journalist asked him what had happened in this situation.
Guardiola lauds and loves Kimmich
“I give you journalists one advice: Don’t ever say he can’t play as centre back”, the Catalan instructed the reporter, “with Joshua we have a good defense and a very good buildup.”
Then his eulogy began and corresponded with the peculiar scenes a couple of minutes ago. “I love this kid. I like to work with these kind of players, they want to learn. He has desire, passion, he has everything,” Guardiola insisted. “A big compliment to Michael Reschke [editor’s note: the technical director] who signed him. With this player you can go wherever you want.”
Once again Guardiola expressed what a big fan of Kimmich he is and that he has huge trust in his abilities. Still, the author of this very column has to insist: Kimmich is no real defender. He’s a midfielder. Even more astonishing is the fact how good he’s adapting to his new role. Although, as the pundits at Sky’s talkshow Sky90 put it: He’d probably not play in a side other that Guardiola’s Bayern (and maybe Barça) as a centre back – the two most dominating teams in Europe where playing the ball smartly out of the defense is more important than the usual outmoded positional play and ball-winning abilities of old fashioned crunching centre backs.
Kimmich is a modern species of central defenders, invented by Guardiola who already played another central midfielder in defense years ago: Yaya Touré back in 2009 at Barcelona. Even Sergio Busquets, the most modern pivot in world football, was deployed in the backline a couple of times. Now Kimmich played there against Juventus and Dortmund, two heavyweights of European football. And did well. But how did he feel when Guardiola lectured him in the middle of the pitch, in front of 208 countries who transmitted the clash with BVB? “I know him, emotions are playing a certain part, so it wasn’t a problem,” Kimmich said calmly, “he’s criticising now and then, he always wants to get the most out of you. I like that.”
Bayern and Guardiola on eye level with Tuchel’s Dortmund
If we’re talking about getting the most out of somebody, applying a modern approach and tactical tricks, that immediately brings us back to Borussia Dortmund and their manager Thomas Tuchel.
Since Mainz surprisingly won at Bayern’s Allianz Arena on Wednesday (2-1), Dortmund was considered a proper challenger in the title race again, sitting “only” 5 points behind Bayern. Dortmund are the best second placed team in the history of the Bundesliga – since the 1-5 loss in the Allianz Arena Tuchel’s team even managed to collect two more points than Bayern.
After a intense game, the media agreed that 208 countries saw a top game between the German giants who might be on the same level soon – when Guardiola leaves and Ancelotti arrives. “Dortmund appeared to be tactical more mature than in the wild days of Klopp,” weekly newspaper Die Zeit stated, while Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted: “Dortmund proved themselves as a big challenger”.
It’s a pity that we won’t see that duel between Tuchel and Guardiola again, bemoans Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). And they are right. Since Guardiola will leave the Bundesliga to coach Manchester City, there won’t be another clash of these two brilliant managers which results in ecstatic, thrilling and fascinating games. Unless, of course, they face each other in the Champions League sometime.
Before the game, both lauded each other to be amongst the best managers in the world. After the game, one could see that this might be true. Once it was called the salt and pepper games, because of Tuchel’s and Guardiola’s famous meeting in a restaurant in Munich. Now, SZ refereed to it as a “duel of two spiritual brothers”, who are driven by the ambition to get the best out of their teams with a mutual respect for eachother. It’s a real pity for German football that the one brilliant manager is also driven by the ambition to take his next job somewhere else.
The Pep Episodes is a weekly column about the adventures of Pep Guardiola in Munich exclusively written for Grup14 by Alex Truica, a freelance sports journalist and editor. You can follow him on Twitter.