It would have been about 06:30 in Manhattan when the UEFA Champions League draw was made – presuming Pep Guardiola was up at that time, I have this vision of him sat at his breakfast table, coffee and bagel in hand, then a wry grin and shake of the head as the first semi-final was drawn.
To many people I suspect the significance of that pairing only fully dawned once the names of Bayern Munich and Barcelona were placed next to each other – for Guardiola it probably seemed like an inevitability – one of those, ‘I knew that was going to happen’, awkward moments that you’d secretly hoped wouldn’t materialise.
Yes, Pep Guardiola is the consummate professional, but let’s not pretend that this will be easy for him. His future employers against the club where he spent twenty-three years, man and boy – who wouldn’t feel torn?
I’d imagine he will be gladder than ever of the relative anonymity provided by the United States, avoiding the most obvious question of all; “which team would you like to win?” The most sensible answer would probably be; “the best one”, a response that would be hard to argue with – but I’d still expect calls to Guardiola’s agent from excited TV producers, looking for the ‘dream’ Bayern v Barca pundit, to last no longer than it takes to say; “no thanks”.
A telephone call that Guardiola would feel obliged to take a little more time over would be from someone like Uli Hoeneß. Who would blame the Bayern Munich President if he were to say to his future head-coach; “tell us everything you know about Barcelona”. Just pause for a second and think about the significance of that question to Pep Guardiola. This isn’t a journeyman coach who spent a couple of seasons at Camp Nou – he poured his heart and soul into Barcelona, a man whose entire footballing philosophy was shaped at La Masia and stamped all over one the greatest teams the world has ever seen.
It isn’t even as if he left the club on bad terms – so smooth was the parting of the ways that there were even those who suggested he might go back to ‘help-out’ during Tito Vilanova’s enforced absence from the dug-out this season. All these things considered, perhaps Guardiola’s most diplomatic answer might be to point out that he doesn’t officially start work until July.
In reality, it’s impossible to know how Guardiola would respond to that question and you would think there is a pretty good chance it might not even be asked. So significant a coup was Bayern’s capture of the former Barcelona head coach, I have my doubts that they would risk doing anything that might rock the boat, even with a place in the UEFA Champions League Final at stake.
That said, they could inadvertently make his life a lot more difficult by actually winning this season’s UEFA Champions League. Even now there are those asking how even Guardiola can improve this Bayern side, which has just won the Bundesliga in early April. Succeeding a Champions League winning coach is no mean feat, just ask Rafael Benitez, who has now tried it twice at Internazionale and Chelsea. No club has ever retained the trophy, but Guardiola would rightly point out that all records are made to be broken.
It is a challenge that I’m sure Bayern’s out-going head coach would dearly like to set for his much heralded successor. A former Real Madrid man himself, Jupp Heynckes would have some valuable insight of his own, should Bayern face Jose Mourinho’s team in the Final – something tells me though, and I might be totally wrong, that the 67-year-old German will be in no rush to call a certain Spaniard in Manhattan for advice.