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Pep’s challenge: To make the best better

Pep Guardiola is back on the treadmill. A Spaniard who took a year's sabbatical after winning 14 trophies in four years with Barcelona, he is now holding a retreat in the Dolomites in northern Italy.

sports Updated: Jul 09, 2013 01:31 IST
Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola is back on the treadmill. A Spaniard who took a year's sabbatical after winning 14 trophies in four years with Barcelona, he is now holding a retreat in the Dolomites in northern Italy.

His new players speak a different language. But Bayern Munich, too, has swept all before it at every level of German and European soccer.

"It would be arrogant," Guardiola said in German, "to talk about the start of a new era. I will try to continue with the high-level game that Jupp Heynckes achieved. You don't need to be changing a lot of things in a team that has just won every title."

NERVOUS PEP

Guardiola paused, appearing to marshal in his mind his next words in a language he had studied over the past six months in New York, where he and his family had taken time out from the competitive stresses he has known principally in his native Catalonia.

"I am a bit nervous," he said at his introductory news conference in Munich last week. "Everyone has their opinions about playing football. Bayern have won everything; during my time as coach at Barcelona, we won everything, so it's normal there will be interest."

His news conference was followed by another introducing Mario Götze, the playmaker whom Bayern had just paid $47.5 million to buy from Borussia Dortmund.

Again, deference. "I'm sure I can develop here," the 21-year-old Götze told reporters.

IN THE LOOP

Intriguingly, Matthias Sammer, the sport director at Bayern, let it slip that Götze and his consummate adaptability and invention with the ball had been discussed with Guardiola even before the coach agreed to his three-year deal.

"It was very clear early on what kind of player he was after," Sammer said. "Mario's name came up quickly."

Guardiola "seemed to think it was impossible to get a player like that," Sammer said. "When we explained that it might be a possibility, he was very excited." The $47.5 million release clause in Götze's contract with Dortmund was easily within Munich's budget.

But how Götze will fit in, and how Guardiola will juggle the roles of the adaptable Thomas Müller, the emerging Xherdan Shaqiri and Götze are all part of the mystique of team building and blending.

How much, if at all, will Guardiola tamper with the indefatigable work ethic that Heynckes persuaded the wings Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry to add to their flair? How will he change anything on a team that, among other things, utterly destroyed the side that he built for his former club, Barcelona? "Everybody is very, very polite to us," Guardiola said. And polite, too, was the Catalan's way of sidestepping issues over the personalities and players he has inherited and has yet to strike a rapport with.

"I take over a team that played exceptionally in the last season," he said. "When you are Bayern Munich, you always have pressure to play well.

The players, of course, spoke of their new boss in that same polite way. Philipp Lahm, the captain, said the first days had been fun. Guardiola, he said, "is the pleasant kind."

Saying it and showing it, and somehow putting a new accent upon it, will all come under the microscope as soon as the new season starts in a month.

The fans will get to see Bayern play a friendly against Brescia on Tuesday. They will probably see players in familiar roles and out to show their new coach - and the new assistants he brings - that their desire is unimpaired by the summer celebrations, or by the retirement of Heynckes.

New York Times