Thursday, August 8, 2013

Guardiola may not be Bayern Munich's Man of Steel

The new Superman movie, Man of Steel, does some things well.  It creates a plausible Superman back story, introduces a new dynamic into the Clark Kent/Lois Lane relationship and makes Kevin Costner somewhat likeable again after two decades of “meh”.  Despite making nearly $300,000,000 (or nearly three Gareth Bales) in its two-month run so far, the film pales in comparison with Superman and Superman II, movies made in the late 1970s directed by Richard Donner and Richard Lester.

MoS makes everything is more complex.  The stark, crystalline beauty of Krypton in the original films was turned by director Zack Snyder into George Lucas’ most lurid celluloid wet dreams as rideable flying lizards engaged troop carriers above a landscape seemingly composed only of mesas.  The Phantom Zone, the prison supposedly incarcerating Kryptonian antagonists is now a giant machine rather than a mirrored square of unknowable origin.  The film is visually more overwhelming, but rather than this making MoS a better movie, it shows up what shouldn’t have been attempted: redefining an iconic moment in film.

And this is the situation faced by Pep Guardiola as he takes over as head coach of German giants Bayern Munich.  He, the bright young director, has been charged with replacing Jupp Heynckes – one of the best managers in recent memory who in his last season led Bayern to a treble-winning season defined by masterful play and an intimidatingly balanced lineup.

Guardiola, like Snyder, has a preferred motif.  Rather than Pulis’ Sndyer’s wanton cyclic violence, Pep favours a possession game the likes of which the footballing world has rarely seen.  His Barcelona teams would regularly play keep-away for over 80% of their matches, moving their opponents marginally out of position again and again until fatal flaws became exposed.  However, Bayern’s outstanding past three seasons have been based upon a very different style: incision has come from Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller while bite has come from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez.

Barcelona’s triumphs were equated to “death by a thousand cuts”.  Bayern’s modus operandi was to take a scimitar and lop off the head.  Players like Schweinsteiger, Müller and Mario Götze are eminently capable of playing a ball-dominant style, does it suit them the way it did Xavi, Iniesta and Messi?

There’s every chance that despite significant talent upgrades (in the form of Götze and Thiago Alcantara) that Bayern fall short of last season’s lofty standards simply because of coaching.  That isn’t to say that Guardiola isn’t talented – he is – more that installing a coach who works rigidly in a fluid paradigm is a needless attempt at reinventing the wheel.  Heynckes orchestrated an epoch-defining team at die Roten was who will now be instantly re-booted. 

There is a time and a place for changing the artistic direction of a football club, but is that time immediately upon winning the European Cup and when the boss wants to stay?  Bayern were forced into signing Guardiola simply because he wasn’t likely to be available again any time soon.  The new man has claims at being the world’s best manager; but so too did the incumbent.  If Bayern had hoped to repeat as Champions League (and perhaps treble) winners, making such a massive adjustment to an iconic franchise may not be the best place to start.

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