My Football Ramble: About Pep Guardiola and his “philosophy”

On Wednesday (Vietnamese time), Bayern Munich lost to Real Madrid in the second leg of Champions League semi-final. Well…actually, they were humiliated by Los Blancos. Losing 1-0 in the first leg was already unacceptable to many Bayern fans, now how about 4-0, with the same old lack of penetration and tippy-tappy football?


An uproar ensured. Pep Guardiola was, as expected, heavily criticised. The tiki-taka mastermind’s status is now reduced to a passing-obsessed bald man, and an ultra lucky idiot who somehow managed to destroy Jupp Heynckes’ legacy after only three games (these two against Real and the Dortmund one). Some even called for the Spaniard’s exit. After 3 games.

Bayern Munich supporters are proud. And sometimes they can be very forgetful. The Bavarian machine under Pep has operated smoothly from the start of the season, annihilated all opposition forces. A side dominating any league in the world is always a remarkable achivement – let alone cruising through and clinching the Bundesliga title with seven games to play, undefeated till the moment. Just because Bayern bought Mario Gotze from another title challenger, Borussia Dortmund, at the start of the season, just because Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04 do not possess a superstar or the rest of Bundesliga may be completely unknown to you, does not mean the league is weak.

Let’s compare Pep Guardiola to Jose Mourinho – another loser in the semi-final round. The master of counter-attacking football was undone by the former hardman Diego Simeone. Yesterday, the master of proactive football (“tippy-tappy” tiki-taka) was defeated, his tactics rendered useless. Two poster boys of two extremes of football, eliminated.

This is Mourinho’s fourth consecutive defeat in the semi-final stage of Champions League. Yet nobody even uttered that Mourinho was “found out” or needed to rethink his football belief. About Pep Guardiola, it was the contrary.

A “philosophy”, “style”,etc… is only as good as the team executing it. “Tiki-taka” is only a name summarizing the “style” of Pep Guardiola, it does not describe his “tactics”, how he wants his players to move or zones to exploit. A team do not lose because of their philosophy, they lose because their tactic is wrong. David Moyes doesn’t have a clear philosophy, and his “covering space” tactic is obsolete. Pep has “tiki-taka”, but in the first leg, Bayern were too slow, having no obvious link, and in the second leg, they were too fast, too imprecise – by the time they reverted back to their control template, it was already too late. And Mourinho, he wanted his side to soak up pressure and counter, but their gaps were exploited brilliantly by Atletico Madrid.

Passing the ball endlessly has its merits, although it may bore people to death. Pep doesn’t want his players to keep the ball just for the sake of it – he wants his team to move the ball constantly to open up space and penetrate. Andre Villas-Boas openly expressed his admiration for Barcelona, not because of their ball retention ability, but because of the “verticality” in their play. Boas favours an aggressive, high-tempo style of football, and he, unlike a certain Spurs trainer, definitely knows his stuff.

Pep got his tactics wrong, that is what to be blamed, not his philosophy. Bayern fans want to see a Jupp Heynckes style, a “German style”. If the “German style” is the old style Vietnamese fans are accustommed to: strong-willed, tough players, direct counter-attacking, then they are wrong. That is not the current German style: dynamic, fresh,  swift in transition, more proactive, highly tactical as well as entertaining. Jupp’s Bayern are a team based on possession, mixed with some physicality and directness. Yes, Jupp’s team DO KEEP THE BALL. They were the team with the second highest amount of possession in Europe last season, only behind Barcelona. In their demolition of the Catalans, Bayern played counter-attacking, strong, direct football (and they might have pleased some “fans” who think of football as another form of jousting, albeitwith the ball), but that was only a measure against a better side in term of hoarding the ball – instead of fighting a passing battle, they use their superior physicality to exploit Barca’s weakness, and came out successful. Bayern didn’t destroy tiki-taka, they just took an alternate route. Now, Pep just takes their possession-oriented style to a higher level. And everybody thinks Pep is just an alien to “the German spirit”. And everybody loses their minds.

Pep was defeated. He was just a normal human who made mistakes – a lot of mistakes. In fact, even Jupp Heynckes almost got his side eliminated at the hands of Arsenal.  But he will learn. And of course, tiki-taka is not dead yet. There will be teams trying to control possession, applying ferocious pressure on the ball with a high line. Bayern will be a feared team next season, with the arrival of new elements and the refreshment of the squad. With “tiki-taka”.



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