Last night, after LeBron James inspired Miami Heat to consecutive NBA titles, he told ESPN the following:
“Every individual has to get better. As great as we performed, every individual has to come back a better player to make the team better. If it’s not possible to come back better physically, then you come back better mentally - because every team wants to dethrone the champion.”
Those are the words of not only a great champion, but of a perfectionist.
Miami Heat are not the only team in world sport striving for perfection right now. When Pep Guardiola emerges to the flashes of a thousand camera bulbs on Monday, when he is officially unveiled as the new coach of Bayern Munich, the first question he’ll be asked is: What more can you do to improve the best team in Europe? One of the finest managers in world football can only fail. Right?
Well, not exactly. Guardiola has signed a three-year contract and will be eager to be judged over that period. The Spaniard will almost certainly not win another treble in his first season and, on Monday, he will emphasise the need to bring “sustained” success to Bayern, or something along those lines. But in reality, his task is to build an empire.
There hasn’t been a dynasty in European football for some time. Barcelona have come closest in the current era, but you have to go back to Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan of the early 90s or Bob Paisley’s Liverpool of the late 70s-early 80s to find a side that has truly dominated on the European stage. Bayern haven’t achieved it since the Beckenbauer era of the mid 70s.
If Guardiola can guide the Bavarians to two more Champions League titles and at least two more Bundesliga crowns in those three years then his tenure will surely be deemed a success. But Guardiola is a man who may be feeling the heat before a ball has even been kicked.
In his first campaign at Camp Nou, Barcelona achieved the remarkable treble of winning the Primera División, Copa del Rey and Champions League, and they finished 2009 with six trophies in all. But his acute awareness of his own capabilities as a coach ensured he only ever signed one-year contracts at Barca. When he felt he had taken them the distance, he quit. Bayern are already more successful than Barca were in the season he left, so this new chapter in Guardiola’s career is also his most daunting.
He’ll look to shape an already great team in his own image and with the likes of the brilliant Mario Götze coming in, Bayern will evolve. The return of Toni Kroos, who missed Bayern’s triumphant end to the season through injury, will provide the new coach with greater options when his recovery from knee surgery is complete. Guardiola’s first training session on Wednesday, in front of an expected crowd of 25,000, will provide the rare opportunity for a team of champions to prove themselves. When complacency is Bayern's biggest challenge, Guardiola’s arrival is the best motivator.
But the key to building a footballing dynasty is evolvement. The Liverpool side that beat Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final contained only four starters from the side that won the competition only four years earlier against Borussia Monchengladbach.
In Guardiola’s two Champions League finals against Manchester United, the 2011 team had seven starters from the 2009 team, which would have been eight had Carlos Puyol not been injured for the rematch. So at Bayern, Guardiola must be more radical in how he reinvents an already great team. Within Guardiola’s three-year contract, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, Dante, Mario Manzukic, Arjen Robben, Manuel Neuer and captain Phillip Lahm will all join Franck Ribery in the over 30 club. As each of these players glide beyond their peaks, the new coach will have to make some tough decisions.
Peripheral players will feel they have a genuine chance to make a contribution and even the likes of Ribery will admit he didn’t have the best season by his own standards. Indeed, there are a few areas Guardiola can improve his side – there are better strikers around than Manzukic and Gomez for example - but most of Guardiola’s work in his first season will be psychological.
What Guardiola will be focusing on, is not how to ensure Bayern remain better than everyone else, but how they can become better than they already are. If Guardiola gets this right, we may be on the cusp of Europe’s first football dynasty in over 20 years.
Bayern are 4.75 with Unibet to retain their Champions League crown.
Read more from Michael Da Silva here