The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Pep Guardiola is impressive in his 1st months at Bayern Munich as coach
FRANKFURT - Pep Guardiola impressed even before he conducted his first practice session with Bayern Munich. On his first day on the job as coach, Guardiola held a news conference — in German.
It wasn't perfect German, but it was very good for someone who had just arrived in Germany and had never lived in the country before.
Guardiola spent six months studying German with a private tutor in New York, once it had become known that he had a signed a three-year deal with the Bundesliga powerhouse while on a one-year sabbatical.
It illustrates Guardiola's methodical and professional approach to any undertaking and the high standards he demands from the club, from the players and from himself. His obsession with detail and penchant for perfection makes him seem more German than the Germans.
The job at Bayern, the most decorated German club with a huge following, is the most scrutinized and considered the toughest in German club football. Juergen Klinsmann was ridiculed as he was chased out of the club before completing a season.
Guardiola may have been a star coach of Barcelona who won 14 titles over four seasons, but he had never coached outside the familiar surroundings of a club where he grew up and played.
And he was taking over at the club that had just completed a historic season under predecessor Jupp Heynckes, who didn't go entirely willingly after being persuaded by Bayern to retire.
Heynckes guided Bayern to an unprecedented treble for a German team, adding the Champions League title to the Bundesliga championship and the German Cup.
Anything less than that and Guardiola's first season could be judged only, if unfairly, as a qualified success.
"I know in which club I am and it's not easy. You have to win all the time. Everybody wants more, more, more all the time," Guardiola said early in the season.
So far, Guardiola is delivering. He lost his first title match, to Borussia Dortmund, but that was in the season-opening German Super Cup, a minor competition.
Bayern beat Europa League winner Chelsea in the more important Super Cup, it will spend the winter break undefeated atop the Bundesliga (unbeaten run at 41 and counting) and is in the quarterfinals of the German Cup.
Bayern's only other defeat came in the final group match in the Champions League against Manchester City, but Bayern still advanced to the last 16.
This week in Morocco, Bayern can add the fifth title of the year if it wins the World Club Cup. Guardiola has said it is "very, very important for our club."
Under Guardiola, Bayern has improved its game, although not every match is a highlight reel. There is less endless Barcelona-like passing and more purpose. Guardiola insisted on bringing Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona and the nimble midfielder has added even more creativity.
Guardiola has tinkered with the formation when necessary. Captain Philipp Lahm, usually right back, has played very successfully as a defensive midfielder — a role that he may even take for Germany at the World Cup.
Franck Ribery is playing the best football of his career and is one the short list for the Ballon d'Or. Injuries have not affected performances — if Ribery is injured, Arjen Robben steps in and vice versa.
"The club brought this team together. And the coach is good when he has good players. I'm honoured to be coach," Guardiola said earlier this month.
Guardiola is not easily satisfied and it took a 7-0 win at Werder Bremen for the coach to be pleased.
"I'm delighted with a game at such a high level. Our position game was good for the first time this season," he said.
Defender Jerome Boateng said: "The coach refuses to let up because he wants us to keep getting better."
In October, Guardiola said he was surprised at how quickly the players had accepted his ideas, while warning that those who don't will lose their place in the squad.
"I thought we'd need considerably more time, but the level is already very, very high. Of course, not in every match and not over full time, but I can say I am pleased with what we've shown on the field in this first part of the season," Guardiola told Bayern's house magazine.
After nearly every match, Guardiola insists there is a lot of room for improvement. A much better Bayern could be a scary proposition for the rest of Europe.
Guardiola was furious in late November after a few locker-room "secrets" were leaked to the country's top-selling newspaper and threatened to throw out whoever was responsible. That seems to have been the end of that.
Club president Uli Hoeness said last week that it was difficult to pass judgment halfway into the season. But signing Guardiola was a "great move" by the club.
"Everything he does is very professional and passionate," Hoeness said.
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