BERLIN, January 22 – Pep Guardiola enters the final four months of his three-year reign as Bayern Munich coach on Friday with the Spaniard under pressure to sign off with the treble.
Bayern kick-off the second-half of the season at Hamburg with an eight point lead in the table and if things continue Guardiola will end the Bundesliga season on May 14 with the Bavarians having become the first club to win the German league title four times in a row.
But his tenure will be judged by whether he repeats the 2013 treble of Champions League, German League and Bundesliga titles, achieved by his predecessor Jupp Heynckes.
For the last two seasons under Guardiola, Bayern has exited the Champions League at the semi-final stage and they are desperate to at least reach this year’s final in Milan on May 28, then win the title.
“Our goal is to play successful football. For us, that means having three titles at the end of the season. But we know that will be difficult,” said Bayern’s captain Philipp Lahm as they prepare to face Juventus in the last 16 of Europe next month.
Guardiola’s announcement last month that he is leaving at the end of the season, probably to coach in England, will make it that bit harder to win the Champions League title, according to former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
– No easy task –
“If a coach announces in December that he will leave half a year later, it doesn’t make the task any easier,” Hitzfeld, who coached Bayern to the 2001 Champions League title, told Kicker.
Hitzfeld says Guardiola must pay attention to discipline within the Bayern squad, especially after they developed a habit of losing matches in the previous seasons once the league title was won.
But the veteran coach is convinced Guardiola will achieve his goal.
“He won’t rest, because his big goal is to say goodbye with success,” added Hitzfeld, with ‘success’, in this context, meaning the European title.
Guardiola knows only the treble — or at least the European crown for the sixth time in the club’s history — will truly quench the Bavarians’ thirst for silverware after ‘only’ winning the Bundesliga title last season and achieving the league and cup double in 2014.
“I know that people want us to win the Champions League and if we don’t manage it, we will have failed,” said the 45-year-old, who will be succeeded by Carlo Ancelotti next season.
But the Spaniard got animated on Thursday when asked if it was the “triple or nothing” as far as his Bayern farewell is concerned.
“No, no, no!” said Guardiola.
“I would immediately sign on the dotted line if I was offered the same second half to the season as we have had in the previous years.”
– Accept and respect –
Lahm says he “accepts and respects” Guardiola’s decision: “we get on well and it is fun to work with Guardiola, but since I was six years old I have seen coaches come and go”.
However, Dutch winger Arjen Robben had a different opinion of the Spaniard’s decision.
“I am annoyed about it, it’s a real pity and a shame,” the Netherlands captain told Dutch television while forwards Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski have both said they plan to bid farewell to Guardiola with trophies.
Guardiola’s future lies in England — with Manchester City widely tipped to be his future employers — but he has not ruled out a return to Germany as he looks to keep his options open.
Bayern’s coach admits he has no idea what level his side are at ahead of their match at mid-table Hamburg.
Munich’s run into the end of the season means they need to win in Hamburg, then beat Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and nearest rivals Borussia Dortmund away before early March, “then we’ll have the Bundesliga in our pockets,” according to Guardiola.
He tried some reverse psychology this week by insisting he is “less important” than both Heyckes and Hitzfeld in the history of the club, but Guardiola will write himself into Bayern’s folklore if he brings the Champions League trophy from Milan to Munich in May.