German option may have surprised many but it makes perfect sense to former Barca boss

Thu, Jan 17, 2013, 00:00

Bayern Munich have pulled off a bit of a coup for the club and its supporters

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is sure to have been startled as he awoke this morning by the realisation that there is someone in football he just couldn’t buy. And it is not, perhaps, a complete coincidence that Pep Guardiola has chosen to make his return to football in Germany, a nation where the Russian would never have been allowed to buy a major club.

The Germans require that 51 per cent of the shares in their Bundesliga clubs are owned by its supporters, the percentage at Bayern Munich, where Guardiola will take over in July, is higher at 82. So around 190,000 Germans got to brag to their friends yesterday that they had just hired the most exciting managerial talent in the world.

The Spaniard, who turns 42 tomorrow, has been hired to restore the club’s supremacy on the pitch after a few disappointing seasons. Announcing the news yesterday, club president Uli Hoeness took things a little too far by suggesting that “only a coach of Pep Guardiola’s calibre would be brought into consideration to replace Jupp Heynckes”.

Bayern said Heynckes told club officials before Christmas of his plan to retire at the end of the season. The 67-year-old was in his third stint as coach, taking over for the fired Louis van Gaal after the 2010-11 season.

“In a very personal discussion with Jupp Heynckes, we assured each other that we will do everything we can to bring the 2012-13 campaign to a successful conclusion, and bring the title back to Munich,” Bayern chief executive officer Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. Given they are currently nine points clear in the title race, that looks a distinct possibility.

Marketable manager

The appeal of Guardiola is obvious. During his four years in charge at the Nou Camp, he won three titles and two Champions Leagues while playing a captivating brand of football. His side’s defeat of Manchester United at Wembley, to lift the second of those titles, cemented his status as the world’s most marketable manager.

Last year’s announcement he would be taking a sabbatical in order to recharge his batteries saw the most disorderly of queues forming to secure his services on his return.

Given the offers he has had, most notably from Abramovich but also, it is reported, from the likes of Manchester City and AC Milan, the decision to go to Bayern may seem, initially at least, a little surprising.

The Bundesliga is not Europe’s most glamorous league – though it narrowed the margin significantly yesterday with its current broadcast rights holders, who include Setanta and ESPN, doubtless pleased at the thought of German football becoming the new Spanish football. And though they are no Chelsea, the Bayern board is not the game’s most patient, with Guardiola’s the seventh appointment to the hot-seat in the last six years.

Still the attractions are not hard to spot. The club is a leading exponent of the German league and federation’s policy of developing young players and thrusting them onto the centre stage of the domestic game.

Of the half a dozen or so German internationals in the side, Thomas Müller, Philipp Lahm, Holger Badstuber and Toni Kroos arrived at the club at the ages of 10, 11, 13 and 15 respectively.

The production line continues and has received considerable investment over the last 15 years under the supervision of former assistant manager Werner Kern and Bjorn Andersson, a member of the European cup-winning side of 1975.

As well as that the club has always been willing to pay for players it believes it really needs – as when it handed over nearly €35 million to Stuttgart for Mario Gomez a couple of years ago – and to turn down big offers for those it wants to keep, as when it rebuffed all interest in Franck Ribery back in 2010.

Safe hands

Former stars like Hoeness hold influential roles but the business side of things appears to be in safe hands, with Bayern the game’s fourth richest by turnover last year behind Real Madrid, Barca, and Manchester United; this after a season in which they won nothing.

When declaring a profit of some €11 million for the year back in November, in fact, outgoing financial chief Karl Hopfner observed that “the members of Bayern Munich can be proud of their club today. Bayern Munich has never been in such a financial position in its 112-year history”.

That stability is, in part, a product of German football’s relative prosperity. As a whole, television revenues are a third of what they are in England and match-day revenue is barely 60 per cent of the Premier League’s.

But the Bundesliga is the world’s best supported in terms of match-day attendances, comfortably beating England and Spain with an average of 45,179. The image of the game is good and clubs are, by and large, in solid financial shape and commercial revenues are high, with none, in Germany or anywhere else for that matter, as high as at the Allianz Arena, with Bayern getting top dollar for its sponsorship and corporate seats.

Fans of various English clubs will cling to the idea that Bayern will be a stepping stone and Guardiola is certainly young enough to have quite a few moves left in him yet.

However, his decision is an interesting reminder to the northern-most of the continents big leagues that the map of European football looks rather different when viewed from the south.

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