The Pep Episodes XXXVIII
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.
It was not meant to be. Fine, marginal things cost Bayern their desired final in the Champions League, cost Pep Guardiola a chance to finally win this damned European trophy with the big ears. Again, the semi-final was the final stop for his Bayern side, and yet again against a Spanish team. “The bitter hat-trick”, lamented kicker sports magazine, rightfully pointing out that in all his three years in Munich, Guardiola has been eliminated in the penultimate stage of the UCL against a team from his native country.
“I’ve done the best I can do. I fought, I gave my life for this team,” Guardiola said gushingly, but again, it just wasn’t meant to be. Again, these damn Spaniards have been just a tiny bit better, at least regarding the final result; Bayern lost due to the away goal rule – the tightest possible elimination. “The Spanish teams are very, very good,” Guardiola said to a reporter, who replied he’d know that, the Catalan went on: “Yes, but people maybe don’t know. Spanish teams are very, very good,” he repeated. And they are.
So is it a failure to go out against Atletico, arguably by far the best defense in world football, only because of one missing goal? It shouldn’t – but it will be, for large parts of the media and fans. Simply because they expected more from Guardiola. They expected the UCL trophy, a treble – at least one.
Guardiola’s arrival in Munich already was something else. People marvelled at him like an extraterrestrial landed on earth, something god-like, with higher powers, who would bring silverware en masse and beautiful football and win after win without any losses to the already spoiled Bavarians – somebody who will “take them to the Olympus”, as Sport1 nicely put it. Guardiola didn’t even start his work at Säbener Straße, and he was already canonized. With these expectations, Guardiola could only lose.
As a matter of fact, he did bring beautiful football and many many wins and records to Munich – but he didn’t bring the anticipated Champions League. He didn’t even reach a single final. So this must be a failure, right? Wrong.
“Guardiola’s greatest achievement might just be creating such unrealistic expectations that nothing short of perfection is considered failure,” Rafael Hernandez beautifully summarized on twitter.
People often forget that on this stage of world football, the smallest details matter – details that no manager in the world can influence: Like a missed penalty (Müller) or a shot against the crossbar (Alaba) or a tiny mistake in build-up play and counterpressing (Boateng). For 135 of the 180 minutes against Atletico, Bayern were superior and by far the better team. They had everything, they did (almost) everything right – even Diego “Cholo” Simeone admitted that Bayern was the best opponent he ever played against and their first 45 minutes in the second leg has been “incredible”. But sometimes, even incredible is just not enough, a bad first half or one or two small errors can cost you even if you dominate for three of the other four halves.
Pressure, fluidity, goalscoring opportunities, possession – Bayern played close to perfection, just not close enough to it. Guardiola searches for perfection in football, he wants to eliminate coincidences out of it. But football can be crazy, irrational, unpredictable. No tactics in the world can prevent players from making mistakes, from collapsing under the pressure of the meaningful event. In the first game at the Vicente Calderon, Guardiola left out Müller – and everybody criticised him for that. In the second leg, he played Müller – and the German International, usually an extraordinary good penalty taker, missed from the spot. Irony of fate.
“It was a win of the ugly football against the most beautiful football in the world,” moaned Bayerns midfield warrior Arturo Vidal, of all people. Atletico Madrid surely doesn’t care, and after a few days, the media won’t either. What remains is again: not fulfilling his mission. Failure. The failure to reach the final, to win the prestigious cup. Guardiola’s failure, not the one of his team. That’s how people see it, this will be the overall conclusion when the dust of their amazing performance settled.
In every newspaper, every TV show, journalists are asking the same odd question: “What will remain of Pep Guardiola?” And you get the same answers, only in different nuances: His team played awesome football, he is a tactical magician – but he failed to deliver the UCL to this proud, sometimes arrogant Bavarian club.
So he is not up to their managing legends like, yes, Jupp Heynckes, who brought them the treble in 2013. What almost everybody forgets: The year before that, Heynckes finished second in all three competitions. Back then, he wasn’t considered a failure, simply because people didn’t have excessive expectations. Heynckes could actually win something. Guardiola, on the other hand, could only lose. From the very beginning.
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.