Bavaria and beyond bewitched by Bayern boss Guardiola
Former Barcelona manager woos the locals on his arrival in Germany
Pep Guardiola of Bayern Munich talks to a ball girl next to club mascot ‘Berni’ the bear at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Keepie-uppie in a three-piece suit is never an easy look to pull off, especially if your partner is Berni, a 6ft fluffy bear in red shorts. But after a flawless performance on the Allianz Arena press room stage in front of 200 reporters (“the biggest press conference in the history of the club”, beamed the press officer Markus Hörwick), Pep Guardiola also successfully negotiated a cringe-making appearance with the Bayern mascot on the pitch; his good mood, winning aura and crisp attire all unscathed.
The Bayern top brass on either side of him, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, were smiling non-stop through the hour-long media conference. What better way to follow up a treble than with the capture of a trophy coach? “We feel great happiness and pride that we were able to attract the world’s greatest manager,” said Rummenigge, the chairman of the board. “We believe he will not just inspire us but the whole of the Bundesliga and German football.”
Whereas Bayern were obviously delighted by the Guardiola hype in Germany – the tabloid Bild had smuggled a reporter into business class on his Sunday night flight from Barcelona and breathlessly reported that he had forsaken the on-board food for some last minute swotting up on German idioms – the 42-year-old was strong on humility and self-effacing humour. “Please excuse my German, New York was not the ideal place to study it,” he said in more than passable German after firing off the traditional Bavarian greeting “Grüss Gott” at the start.
His German teacher in Manhattan was a Borussia Dortmund supporter. “She didn’t want me to come to watch any live Bayern games”, he said. Compliments about his language skills were playfully rejected: “I learned all the answers by heart, when the questions come, I will be kaputt”. But there was not a single precarious moment, only a quip from the sporting director, Matthias Sammer, about hair transplants, which doubled up as a sarcastic remark about the Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp’s surgically enhanced follicles.
Everyone, including the big Bayern beasts, was far too taken aback with his sheer presence to throw anything but softball questions. “He said he could imagine coaching here two years ago, when we met (at a friendly). We couldn’t believe it at the time, and now he’s here,” said Hoeness
Confessing to feeling “nervous”, Guardiola said it was “a gift, a joy to be here, I thank Bayern for believing I could do it and for the opportunity”. Asked why he had turned down other advances the former Barcelona coach mentioned Bayern’s “history and players” and intimated it had not been a difficult choice. “The (Bayern) bosses decided that, not me – they called me.”
On actual football matters, there was little to excite. Guardiola said he did not come with fixed ideas about Bayern’s playing style. “I will adapt 100 per cent to the high quality of players who are here, they are different to the Barcelona players. Football obeys the players, not the managers. The fans come to see the players, not me.”
There might be some “small changes”, but the aim was to “keep the level” of the previous campaign. “I feel that it’s a great honour to follow on from Jupp Heynckes, who I respect so much,” he said.
Questions about transfer targets were elegantly circumvented (“I need to meet my players first”), and the small problem of having to improve on an unimprovable treble campaign was played down. “There’s always pressure to win at any big club, that’s why you’re a manager,” said Guardiola, and in any case, he would rather take over a successful team than a side who had just finished 18 points behind the championship winners, as Barcelona had done in 2008.
“Yes there is pressure, but I’m convinced that we will have a successful time together, we’re just happy that we’ll be working together with him,” said Rummenigge, who also stressed that winning the league was the main target. “We want the kind of stability in performances that Barcelona enjoyed under him but we know that you can’t automatically win the Champions League every year.”
Guardiola did not make any promises either, apart from the one about working extremely hard. There will be no time to sample Munich’s culture, he said, “because I’ll be living at (club HQ) Säbener Strasse for the first six months”. His wife Cristina and daughter Maria, who were listening with the help of a translator, must hope he meant that figuratively.