To think that some suggested Pep Guardiola was taking the ‘easy option’ by returning to coaching with Bayern Munich when the move was announced back in January.
The newly-crowned Bundesliga champions’ 2013 form has been imperious to the extent that many have since mused how Guardiola could possibly improve on the current recipe.
After his soon-to-be side’s Champions League semi-final demolition of his old Barcelona charges in Munich this week, the temptation is there to change the adjective describing the 42-year-old’s mission from ‘difficult’ to ‘impossible’.
It will not be a case of Guardiola dismantling perfection, though, even if he makes significant changes to the group that so demolished Barça this week. Football supremacy is rather like happiness – it’s not something you can nail to the wall and stare at, but something that requires constant nurturing and development.
Just ask José Mourinho. Real Madrid’s thrilling peak of last season’s final months was followed by a natural trough, with this season’s slow start lacking in “intensity”, as Mourinho repeatedly lamented.
A new voice could be just the stimulus that Bayern need in the tricky task of following this “extraordinary” season, as current incumbent Jupp Heynckes describes it. The prospect of Guardiola doing nothing to the current group is simply not an option.
The blitzing of Barcelona was a pinnacle, and should be treated as such. Arjen Robben, who produced a match of outstanding application as well as aptitude on Tuesday, is as unlikely to be retained now as he was a few weeks, or months, back. The super Marios, Gomez and Mandzukic, might doubt their own roles given Guardiola’s previous difficulties and integrating a big number nine.
Clearly the Guardiola plan is already starting to roll out, with Dortmund’s Jürgen Klopp making it clear in Tuesday’s press conference that his star turn Mario Götze had ended up at the Allianz Arena next season as a clear by-product of Guardiola and the 20-year-old’s mutual admiration. Götze could easily reprise the central striker’s role as he has done for Dortmund and Germany on occasion.
Still, suggestions that Bayern have made a transfer budget of £250m or more seem to miss the point a little. Any signings are likely to be fairly costly – such is the way of things at a genuine giant of a club – but they will not necessarily be numerous.
Guardiola is likely to cut the size of the Bayern squad, if anything. He likes to run with a tight group, as was acknowledged by widespread reports from Barcelona some months back claiming that Manchester City (and former Barcelona) sporting director Txiki Begiristain attempted to lure Guardiola to Eastlands on the promise of a mass clear-out of the playing staff – thereby creating a smaller, more dynamic group.
The deployment of current players will be interesting, with Javi Martínez perfectly fitting the bill as a Guardiola-style ball-playing central defender. If, of course, the coach dares to take him out of midfield, where he excelled against Barça.
One thing we can be sure about is that Guardiola’s ‘year off’ has eventually proved to be nothing of the sort. He will already have been preparing meticulously for the upcoming challenge, and is ready to hit the ground running. His father, Valentí, told media at the weekend that his son’s intention is to give his presentation press conference – on a date yet to be determined – in German.
There may well be more questions than answers about how Guardiola’s Bayern will shape up – and if it’ll work out. What it won’t be, though, is anything less than fascinating.
Bet on Bayern Munich to win the Champions League at odds of 1.80
Read more European football opinions from Andy Brassell