Guardiola, the highly sought-after difficult 'genius'

The occasion was mundane, the opposition mediocre. But you wouldn't have known either from the enormous, coffee table-sized dossier Pep Guardiola was carrying through the corridors of Bayern Munich's Saebener Strasse headquarters before October's home game against Cologne, the sort of game his club - the unassailable leaders - were expected to win at a canter.

The manager locked himself in his office to study videos of the mid-table team for hours and emerged the next day to provide his side with a detailed analysis of where space could be found.

Cologne made life difficult with a five-man defence and 10 men behind the ball at the Allianz Arena. But spaces began to open up precisely in the areas Guardiola had mapped out in the team meeting.

Bayern took full advantage to destroy the visitors 4-0, leaving one long-serving member of the coaching staff to shake his head and say: "Pep, he's a genius."

Despite the "genius" aspect, Guardiola has proved more high-maintenance and difficult to work with than anticipated.

There are countless similar anecdotes that tell of the 44-year-old's professional dedication since pitching up in the Bavarian capital in the summer of 2013. Talk to any of the former greats on the Bayern board or even to employees, and they all say that they have never seen a manager as brilliant as Guardiola at work.

Practice sessions are varied and intense, team talks nothing short of enlightening. Another influential Bayern official told the Observer that "Guardiola thinks about football and understands the machinations of the game at a level so deep that no one can follow".

Midfielder Toni Kroos worked under Juergen Klinsmann, Louis van Gaal, Jupp Heynckes, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez, but he, too, recently said that Guardiola, his manager at Bayern in 2013-14, "was the best coach I ever had in terms of his football ideas, his plans for playing against sides and presenting solutions to his own team".

A Champions League trophy has eluded the Spaniard in Munich but he turned the club into football's equivalent of Terminator II: They can shift shape at will, adapt to any situation and take down their opponents in a myriad of ways.

But, despite the "genius" aspect, Guardiola has proved more high-maintenance and difficult to work with than anticipated.

He still has not come to terms with a corporate culture that sees key figures frequently engage in robust exchanges of views. In turn, Bayern do not understand why he has often sent assistants or advisers to raise important issues with the board, instead of talking to them directly.

The lack of open communication has bred mistrust on both sides.

There were endless rows with Bayern's club doctor, Hans- Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt, over players' recurring injuries. The 73-year-old resigned in protest after nearly four decades at Bayern.

Kicker reported on Thursday that Dr Mueller-Wohlfahrt's successor, Dr Volker Braun, has also fallen out with Guardiola over the latest injury setback for Franck Ribery, who will miss the next eight weeks with a muscle tear.

As much as Guardiola's exacting methods and complex personality have exhausted the club, Bayern would still have been prepared to overlook it all to tie him down for a few more years. Such has been the impression he has made in pure footballing terms.

But he has got other plans.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline 'Guardiola, the highly sought-after difficult 'genius''. Print Edition | Subscribe