Pep, Bayern, Jose and the inconvenient truth… (Guest Article – Hugh Hogan)

“So finally it has come to an end” some say? Or has it only just begun? Even though Barcelona’s most beloved son “Josep Guardiola i Sala” (or just Pep” has recently signed a new three year contract with the Bavarian giants “FC Bayern München reportedly denying offers from China to replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Tradford, has the so called “Pep Saga” actually come to an end?

Pep Guardiola is seen to many as a quite simple man born in the town of Santpedor a small, rustic municipality located roughly 75km north of Barcelona. Overlooking a hilly Spanish countryside, it boasts just over 7000 inhabitants. He met his wife Cristina while working part time in his parents clothes shop when he was eighteen and according to all his family and friends he has been obsessed with nothing other than “fútbol” and “Tiki-taka” (his footballing philosophy) since an early age and turned down numerous big money offers from China, the middle east and America to come and coach Bayern according to Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Ruminegee who stated that Guardiolas decision to come to Germany was based almost solely on “footballing reasons, rather than monetary reasons and Bayern wouldn’t have had the money to compete for Pep in that situation”. However to say just because Pep is not necessarily obsessed with material values doesn’t mean he isn’t incredibly competitive, energetic and doesn’t hate losing, remind you of anyone?

Four years fourteen trophies (easy to see why so many clubs wanted him so badly) don’t sound like too appalling a record overall does it? However for Pep like all the other great mangers Shankly, Ferguson, Clough, Hitzield, Busby to name just a few for Pep it’s never been about what he’s done, but what he has failed to do. Last season “2011-12” is a prime example of this, two trophies (the club world cup and the Copa del Rey) considered a success for most clubs and managers however what really matters to Pep, their shots at winning the La Liga and the Champions league were both lost in embarrassing circumstances. The Champions league was lost to  the eventual winners a far inferior Chelsea side who were huge under dogs coming into the tie and scraped through 3-2 on aggregate (despite Barca having 72% possession in both matches) and possibly the bigger and more shameful embarrassment that of losing the La Liga to Barca’s arch nemesis Real Madrid and Guardiola’s managerial nemesis Jose Mourinho by nine points(despite Lionel Messi scoring a staggering fifty league goals, a Spanish record), also Real beat Barca two one at the Nou Camp in what was seen as the title decider and after that and the humiliating champions league exit to Chelsea, Pep had resigned before Barcelona had even beaten Athletico Bilbao three nil to win the Copa del Rey for the 26th time.

At this current moment time Pep is a hard man to predict, most would say he has been severely wounded by the pains of last season and feel he needs in some way (staggering as it is to say it) to prove himself again, similar to a way a certain Mr. Mourinho may have felt after losing the Premiership to Manchester United in 2007 and after a poor start to the 2007-2008 season and many arguments with Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich which led to his sudden shock departure. So Mourinho headed to Inter Milan in the summer of 2008 for where he stayed for two seasons before ultimately departing for Madrid after winning the Champions League in 2010 in the Bernabeu. Mourinho’s move to Inter Milan in retrospect has been to be viewed as a very cute move, Mourinho knew that Milan was the perfect “big little club” to rebuild his reputation at after a “blip” and one “Coppa Italia”, two Seire A’s and a second Champions league title for Mourinho himself and his reputation had certainly been rebuilt(if it ever needed to be) as the world class manager he is and so he made his dream move to Madrid. Many in the German press have called many comparisons to Mourinho’s move to Inter and Pep’s to Bayern and perhaps incredible as it sounds Bayern is just a building club for Pep so one day in the future he shall be ready to take the helm again at Chelsea or even replace Sir Alex Ferguson at united when his time calls and most find it difficult or almost to think that Pep would never have any connection again with Barcelona a club that defines who he is, his boyhood club and a place has given so much love, joy and devotion to. But alas this is mere speculation, the only think we know for certain is that Bayern will have one of the greatest managers in the world at their disposal for the next three years at least and no doubt both parties will make the best of it and as for the future…? As is the answer to so many questions in football only Pep knows how.

 

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Neymar: Brazil’s Answer To Messi?

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Flair, creativity, swagger, speed, nimble footwork and a devastating eye for goal. Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior possesses all of these essentials in abundance. Blessed with the blistering pace and audacious skills of Cristiano Ronaldo, along with the stamina and awe-inspiring finish of Lionel Messi, this Brazilian wonderkid has it all in his locker. Not a week goes by without Santos’ star man being raved about all over the globe. Whether it be an impudent trick, an expertly-worked assist or a breathtaking finish by the little conjurer, football fans just can’t seem to get enough of him. At the tender age of 20, Brazilian compatriot Lucas Moura has already completed his big-money move to Europe (via PSG) to immerse himself in the ranks of the world’s elite. Neymar will most certainly be following in Lucas’ footsteps, although not necessarily anytime in the immediate future. Many believe that Neymar  Jr. is making a wise move in staying at his boyhood club Santos, as he will give himself an opportunity to develop as a player, mentally and physically. As a striker in Europe, the intricate winger-cum-striker will need to make sure he is up to the task, as robustness is a key factor in the modern game, although Barcelona have managed to defy such a statement.

Growing up in Sao Paolo, football is a huge part in the life of most young boys. They all aspire to be the next Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, or Messi. Futsal is the preferred game of choice for youngsters in Brazil, and it has allowed for successful South Americans such as Falcao (Futsal Player) Robinho and Neymar to hone their skills before actually stepping out onto a real pitch. Neymar inherited his name from his father who is a former professional footballer, and his father has since become Neymar Junior’s advisor. In 1992, he moved to Sao Vicente with his family and soon began to participate in Portuguesa Santista’s youth system. Being touted for stardom and known nationally as hot property, Neymar began to draw attention from Brazil’s more established clubs. In the year of 2003 he signed for Santos FC. He was only 11 years old at the time. What many people don’t know is that the cunning speed demon had trials at Real Madrid when he was 14. He assuredly passed the trials, and was on the verge of sealing a move when Santos decided to pay him a fee of approximately €370,000 to stay with his club. The teenager accepted the lucrative sum of money, and it seems as if he has the reaped the rewards of not making the move too prematurely in his career.

After signing his first professional contract for Santos at the age of 17, Neymar was ready to become an integral cog in the first team, and cement his place there. He did just that, and a little bit more. In the season of 2009, Neymar made his professional debut. He scored in only his second game for the club, and ended the year on a high with a tally of 14 goals in 48 game. Not bad for a spotty-faced teenager eh? In 2010, the Brazilian continued his ascendancy in the game, and bagged 5 goals in an 8-1 rout against Guarani in the qualifying stages of the Brazilian cup. Later that season, Neymar was subject to a reported £12 million bid from West Ham United, and also a £20 million bid from Chelsea. Both offers were rejected, with Neymar pledging his loyalty to Santos. The thought of European football was enough to make the striker think twice, but he concluded that he would be better off staying in his home nation, waiting for the right time to make the big leap. Having ended 2010 with 42 goals in 60 games for Santos, Neymar was once again becoming a major talking point in European football. Such a goal-scoring record said a lot about the type of player Neymar Jr. was, and rumours were constantly circulating over his future with his club. He also made his debut with Brazil in a friendly against the United States in 2010, scoring a header only 28 minutes into his first game for the Canarinho (Little Canary).

When 2011 came a-knocking, big things were expected for the little man, and he produced ample performances to suggest that he is one of the world’s best in his preferred position. Neymar brought his side to the final of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. Santos faced Uruguayan outfit Penarol in the final stage of the competition. After the first leg being a stalemate, 0-0 draw, Neymar knew he had to perform in the return leg to bring home the gold. He opened the scoring for Santos in the 46th minute, and his side held on to record a 2-1 win over the Uruguayans. This was the first time Santos had experienced such success in this competition since the great Pele won it with his Santos side half a century ago. In a game against Flamengo later this season, Neymar scored after a stunning solo effort, in which he left 4 defenders for dead, before coolly dispatching a trivela-type dink over the onrushing goalkeepers’ outstretched legs. This heavenly goal helped Neymar to win FIFA’s 2011 Puskas Award for the best goal of the year. Pundits went googly-eyed over the ability of this sensational teenager, and he was soon being recognised in every corner of the world.

Neymar continued to dazzle in 2012, and managed to claim another nomination for the Puskas award, only narrowly losing out to Miroslav Stoch’s insane volley for Fenerbache. He was in inspired form for Brazil’s U-23 side that travelled to London for the 2012 Olympic games, and he stood out from a star-studded Brazilian squad that slipped up only against Mexico in the Final. He found himself victim of constant booing from onlookers of his matches, but he claimed that this did not bother him.

If Neymar were to have one major downfall, it would undoubtedly be his insatiable knack for diving. When he feels a brush of air sweep past him, he seems to go down sometimes. This is discouraging, although it can be fixed over time, with a simple slap on the wrist. He is also guilty of over-zealous behaviour at times. He got sent off for running to the crowd after scoring and taking a mask of himself only to put it on his face, he then received his marching orders. The attacker also can hold onto the ball too much at times, and when he has an off-day, he can be immensely frustrating to watch. His confidence is what makes him so unique, and some would say that he is reminiscent of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.

But the boy-wonder has many of his best years ahead of him yet, and with Barcelona and Real Madrid suspected to be closing in on a deal for him, he looks to have the world at his feet. He’s certainly no Messi as of right now, but if he continues to keep on keeping on, the sky’s the limit.

Pep Guardiola: The World At His Mercy

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One would imagine that Josep Guardiola is sat smugly beside a pool somewhere in Spain enjoying a well-deserved, refreshing Sangria after a hugely successful tenure in Catalonia. But there is something that is not right in Pep’s head.  There will always be something that will never leave the fray of his imagination. He cannot fathom another year outside of football, whether Pep admits it or not is a different story altogether. He needs to be back in the game, for our sake, and his.

It is no secret that Pep Guardiola is currently being hounded down by many of Europe’s elite clubs. Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Manchester City amongst others, are reported to have enquired about the Spaniard’s services. The former Barcelona player and manager is widely considered to be one of the best in the business, spearheading a Catalonian revolution after taking the mantle from Frank Rijkaard in 2008. He sculpted and shaped a Barcelona team which became arguably one of the best sides to have ever set tread upon a football pitch. He also paved the way for some of the world’s best including Xavi, Iniesta and last but not nearly least, Lionel Messi. There’s no need to say anymore about him. You know the deal.

But Pep now has a big decision to make. A decision that will most likely turn the world of football on its head. He will bring his strict training and dietary regimes, along with his much loved Tiki-taka football style to a new club. Some say Pep isn’t as good as he’s cracked up to be. Some say Guardiola had some of the best players in the world at his disposal and all he needed to do was manage them. But what those misinformed individuals do not understand is that with big players, come big egos. He managed their egos alluringly, to such an extent that there has never been one solitary scuffle between players in Barcelona’s camp while under Guardiola.

Pep is hot property at the moment, with many big teams unable to rival the might of his former Barcelona team. They are still regarded as the best team on the planet, and their current form typifies this statement sublimely. The Catalan club lie 1st in the ‘La Liga’ table, 11 points clear of last season’s champions-turned-egotistical adversaries Real Madrid. But the real question lies within Pep’s ability to nurture some of the best teams and players in the world so capably. Will Guardiola be able to emulate his success in Spain with another club? It is a monumental feat to ask of even him, but who knows? Only time will tell.