Bayern Munich finally got the trophy they’ve been craving for so long. The win against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley will go down as one of the most cathartic and redeeming experiences in the club’s storied history. After losing five of their last six finals going back to 1982, Bayern finally joined the winner’s circle again and can now officially be considered Europe’s best.
The win also poses a very interesting and potentially problematic question. Where does a potential treble winner go from here? Moreover, how can Pep Guardiola possibly improve a team that just broke 30 records in the Bundesliga and had one of the most dominant runs in recent Champions League history? That question will define much of Bayern’s upcoming season and
Praise heaped in from all corners of the world for Bayern’s performance at Wembley and their record-breaking season. And rightfully so. Without resorting to hyperboles, it’s not a stretch to seriously start the discussion about whether this is indeed Bayern’s greatest ever side. After all, they did win the Bundesliga in record time, had the greatest ever start in the league, the best points total, greatest goal difference, fewest goals conceded. The list goes on and on.
In Europe they sent what is almost universally regarded as the greatest club side of all time, crashing out in the semifinals with the greatest ever aggregate win at that stage in the competition. In the previous stage they overcame Italian champions Juventus with the biggest aggregate win against an Italian side in the team’s European history, a country notorious for providing Bayern with difficulties over the years.
How, then, can any one coach come in and improve on the seemingly unimprovable? Jupp Heynckes forged the perfect balance of internal comradery and on field synergy. He also found a way to manage a large squad without much conflict and all while maintaining an incredible level of performances across three different competitions.
Guardiola is the right next step
All the success considered, it would not come as a surprise if Guardiola’s first season at Bayern were deemed a disappointment were he not to follow up in the same manner. But we should keep in mind that long term success in football, or any sport for that matter, is built on a platform of continuing changes and decisions that keeps the team’s development going.
All too often many people’s first instinct is to want to retain what works. To stay with the familiar and just continue on the same path, expecting the same outcome. True progress and success, though, is to know when to make changes. More notably, to make that change ahead of time. Heynckes’ retirement was certainly convenient timing, and so was Guardiola’s readiness to immerse himself back in football.
There is a reason Guardiola chose Bayern over more lucrative suitors like Manchester City or Chelsea. Most notably of course is the club culture and philosophy which mirrors that of Barcelona. In Bayern, Guardiola sees an ideological resemblance of himself and his previous club. A club that can give him the platform on which to express himself.
At Barca, Guardiola would studiously focus on every opponent in the club’s tape room for hours and hours. That same meticulous academic obsession suits Bayern’s own impeccable standards. Language barrier aside, Guardiola is an extension of the work Heynckes already started last year and the most ideal candidate to continue going forward. The next important step for Bayern to take is to create longevity and continuity, the cornerstones of success. Guardiola provides that stability and commitment as long as he will be at the club.
Sometimes progress does not always necessarily mean adding more trophies. Progress in football can come in many shapes. Even though Heynckes said after the final that Guardiola will inherit a perfectly functioning team, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that they can’t get any better. Quite the opposite in fact. This Bayern side has the foundations to become even better and potentially match what Barcelona have done in the last four or five years.
Going back to 2010 and Louis van Gaal’s time in charge, Bayern laid a foundation on which they built every year to be where they are now. Van Gaal’s possession based philosophy elevated Bayern’s ability to control and dominate opponents. This year Heynckes added an extra pressing element to their game that took them past “pressing” kings Barcelona and Dortmund all the way to Champions League glory.
All the while, they added quality in every position. The introduction of David Alaba at left back gave them great outlets and cover for the wingers ahead of them and balanced their overall play. Adding Javi Martinez alongside Schweinsteiger increased their retention abilities, defensive and offensive flexibility. And Mario Mandzukic turned Bayern from a reactive limited team to an all-encompassing and physically overpowering machine. The tools are already in place. At Bayern, Guardiola will be like a kid in a candy store. Spoiled rotten for choice and chomping at the bit to have a go at all of it.
In Martinez for example, Guardiola has a “Busquets” type he can use to slot in between the two centre backs if he wants Bayern to stretch the field and push his fullbacks past the halfway line. The arrival of Mario Götze is perhaps the most interesting feature in the tactical evolution under Guardiola. His additional alone will make Bayern more dynamic and unpredictable and many are already predicting Götze to be Guardiola’s “False 9” but Götze can also cover for Ribery, Müller and Robben.
While Bayern were already extremely flexible and able to adapt under Heynckes, that should increase even more under Guardiola, a coach that was not afraid to experiment, shift things around and take bold steps in his pursuit of perfection.
So going back to the question. Where do Bayern go from here? While the details of that answer remain vague, the direction of the club is clear. Bayern have nowhere to go but up and considering the squad’s continued quality and continued expansion, we would not be far off to expect another run at a treble next year.
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