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How the Germans kidnapped Pep Guardiola

Friday, 18 January 2013 - 10:51am IST Updated: Friday, 18 January 2013 - 10:52am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Stability, time and money proved oddly persuasive as Guardiola gave Abramovich and his henchmen the slip.
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It is my sombre duty to report that war has broken out between England and Germany over the audacious heist that took Pep Guardiola off his path to the Premier League and imprisoned him in the Bundesliga.

The beastly Germans are now crowing about this kidnap in a manner reminiscent of, well, the English, whose copyrighting of the phrase "most exciting league in the world" pre-dates the Bundesliga's campaign to present itself as the most progressive, most principled and the best value to watch.

Over years of rivalry stretching back to 1966, German comedy schools have been churning out administrators skilled at pretending to be arrogant. The English always fall for it. The triumphalism over Guardiola is an in-joke designed to annoy the Premier League, which has yet to persuade its old enemy that the best ownership model is a speculator jumping out of a helicopter and shouting "which club is this?" before buying it with somebody else's money.

The Bundesliga is in exultant mood following Bayern Munich's extraction operation in Manhattan, where Guardiola had been busy avoiding Chelsea by running into shops whenever he saw Roman Abramovich and henchmen heading his way.

Der Spiegel spoke of "euphoria" across the land (not for Borussia Dortmund's fans, presumably) and the German league's official website says this of the Guardiola coup: "His arrival is further confirmation, if any were needed, of the attraction that the Bundesliga now boasts as Europe's fastest-growing league, and marks a new challenge for one of the game's true greats."

My favourite bit here is "if any were needed". Have you not been paying attention? Did you not see Dortmund take Manchester City apart? Did you not know that all German fans are paid to attend games and carried to the ground on sedan chairs before being handed a free pint of organic Bavarian beer?

The Bundesliga news bulletin rolls on: "With the Reds' reputation as a well-run, family-like and traditional club, with an emphasis on producing home-grown talent, Guardiola has truly optimal conditions in which to bring success to Bayern. Europe's best league is now even better." Boom. Take that, Abramovich. Stick that in your pipe, Mr Premier League Big Potatoes.

All day the screw kept turning. "If it had been exclusively about money, we wouldn't have had any chance at all," declared Karl-Heinze Rummenigge, the Bayern chief executive and former legend. In New York, Abramovich offered Guardiola the big Snow White apple but the game's most coveted coach opted for "optimal conditions" and a "family-like" environment.

This is a bit hard on Chelsea, who can offer "optimal conditions" with the best of them, so long as you win the Premier League and Champions League in your first season - and provided John Terry likes you. Yet there was no choice but to say 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pep' on Wednesday as German football rejoiced.

Rummenigge, who said "the overall concept" played a big part in persuading Guardiola to take over from Jupp Heynckes in the summer, went on: "We are sure that he can bring a shine not just to Bayern, but to German football."

What sort of talk is this? Anyone would think the Germans were involved in an egalitarian mission to improve their league for the good of all, through youth development and collective ownership. As Rio Ferdinand tweeted, Bayern tricked Guardiola by offering him "stability, money to invest, history and time, I'm assuming, to put his stamp on the club". I'll bet they also pointed out that only Real Madrid, Liverpool and AC Milan have won the European Cup more times.

Tomorrow in Munich, Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben will return from their winter break to face Greuther Furth knowing they will soon be coached by an extramural student at Columbia University on Broadway. Yes, the man who knew every blade of grass at Barcelona personally, according to one German columnist, kept his mind sharp on his sabbatical.

So sharp, in fact, that he made his judgment based not on the noise made by any particular league (or the salary on offer) but the culture and ethos of the institution offering him work. "He fits the mentality of Bayern," said Ottmar Hitzfeld, who guided the club to five Bundesliga titles and one Champions League win. He also offers German football the best access yet to the stylistic legacy of Johan Cruyff, to whom Guardiola was a "lieutenant on the pitch" in their Dream Team years.

Guardiola's love letter to our Football Association on its 150th birthday was missing the end bit, where the suitor gets jilted. Normally these letters conclude with: "It's not you. It's me." But this one might have ended: "It's not me. It's you."

 


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