With Bayern Munich bowing out of the Champions League yesterday on away goals to Atletico Madrid - making an amazing second final in three years - and essentially ending the run of Pep Guardiola's time at Bayern Munich, the question has been asked: was Pep Guardiola a failure at Bayern?
To reset, Guardiola took over Bayern Munich in the 2013-2014 - this after sitting out a year after voluntarily leaving Barcelona due to burnout following the 2011-12 season. That season marked the first time in his run at Barcelona that the Blaugrana would not win the La Liga title (Mourinho's Real Madrid did), and the team was shockingly beaten in the Champions League Semifinals by Chelsea, a team that would finish in 6th position in the Premier League that season.
The team that Pep inherited had just won the Treble, storming to the Bundesliga Title, clinching in early April. While Bayern closely beat Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) Final in what was an excellent game highlighting peak German football, the real showcase what Bayern's 7-0 aggregate hammering of Barcelona in the semifinals. Bayern was coached by Jupp Heynckes, who was at best retiring or at worst being pushed out the door for the best coach on the market.
In came Pep, as the person that would infuse this incredible talented team that won on its cutting skill and physicality (to watch them pound Barca in the 2013 UCL Semi was incredible) with his patented, legendary tiki-taka style. Three years later, Pep Guardiola is leaving to conquer his next country, taking over the Man City job for next season. In his time at Bayern, he won the league three times (assuming they win this upcoming game), and reached three straight UCL Semifinals. But more notably, they've lost all three of those. All three to each of the Big-3 Spanish Giants. And that is the conundrum - in the modern soccer world, for a team with all the resources that Bayern had, it is hard to call Pep's time as anything but a failure.
Here is the key, many managers could have matched Pep's results. There is a long list of maangers that would have won the Bundesliga the last three years. Pep spent loads of money making the match his vision - this included raiding the only real competition in Germany, Borussia Dortmund, of its two most high-profile attacking players. Bayern faced basically no real competition in Germany, an increasingly one-team league.
What Pep needed to do to set himself apart, or match the ludicrously high expectations he had when he took over hte job, was to win the Champions League. Not only did he not do that, he didn't even make the final once. Bayern Munich had made the Final in 2010, 2012 and 2013, winning the last two. In 2012, Bayern made the final by beating Real Madrid in the Semifinals, including winning a penalty shootout at the Bernabeu. In 2013, the aforementioned massacre of Barcelona occured. In Guardiola's first two years, his UCL campaign ended losing meekly to those two very same teams.
Guardiola put his stamp on the team, but he really is tied down by his style of play. It is a ruthlessly effective side, for sure, but these weren't the right players. The best aspects of Bayern in their treble winning season was their efficient, direct attack play. That is not the highlight of the tiki-taka approach. It is a credit to the talents of the Bayern players they were able to more or less undertake playing in this way and cruising domestically. The only piece was it fell apart against the top teams in Europe.
Guardiola could arguably get a pass for his 5-3 aggregate loss to Barcelona in the 2015 UCL Semifinal (they lost the first leg 3-0 away). His team was mightily injured and shorthanded. But his failure against Atletico, particularly his team selection in the first leg, and the embarrasment that was the 2014 UCL loss to Real, are black marks against him.
In 2014, it was striking. One year after beating Barcelona 4-0 in the Semifinal leg played in Munich by playing sweeping counter-attacking football against Barcelona's possession heavy style (still coached by the late Tito Villanova, Pep's right hand man) his team lost to Real Madrid 4-0 in the Semifinal leg played in Munich with Real Madrid playing very much like Bayern did the year before.
Pep Guardiola is far more like the man he had some infamously heated matches against in his La Liga days: Jose Mourinho. The 'Chosen One' is too never truly happy in any one place, and forces his style on his teams - though Mourinho's style is more malleable. Pep's is not. It works, to be sure, and in no way is three straight league titles and semifinals a bad run, but it was never right for that team.
Looking back a couple years, Pep's run in Bayern coincided with Mourinho's second run in Chelsea. I really wish each coach took over each other's team. Mourinho was the far better fit for Bayern's team at the time, as he made some incredible music at Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid with physically gifted, strong teams like that version of Bayern. Chelsea, who had some more diminutive but highly skilled players (Hazard, Oscar, etc.) would have been a natural fit for Pep. Both tenures ended with a sense of dissatisfaction.
Pep Guardiola is a great coach, and I expect him to do well in Man City. I also expect Carlo Ancelotti to do really well with Bayern Munich. What Pep really has to hope for, though, is Man City to lose today to Real Madrid and not go through to the final. It would be awful symmetry for Guardiola to have to, again, take over the reigning European Champions. It was Bayern's own performance in the years before Pep that contribute greatly to the legitimate argument that as trophy-filled as it was, Pep's three year sojourn in Germany was a failure.