With the imminent approach of a new season in European Football, we take a look at the coaches whose performances and leadership are going to suffer strict scrutiny this season. In this second part of this feature, we take a look at Coaches, who believe it or not, are under pressure despite recent success.
Hardly a name one would expect on this list. The Spaniard treble-winner has accumulated 5 major honours over two season, including a record breaking Bundesliga campaign in 2013-2014. The Bavarians had accomplished the League Championship with 7 games to go, making it the fastest Bundesliga win ever in history. In the subsequent year, Munich reclaimed their third successive Bundesliga with just under a month of the season left to play. In the midst of these two dominating league championships, the DFK-Pokal Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup were also ruthlessly snatched by Die Bayern. If one would consider Jose Mourinho to be safe from the sack (which he is) without achieving similar results, why exactly would Pep be under pressure?
Simple. Expectations. Chelsea, with a lack of history in the Champions League barring 2012 (which, ironically, was won at Munich’s expense) do not count European Silverware as amongst their prime objectives. Munich, on the other hand, with a presence in 3 finals out of the last 5, do. They have competed in the finals an amazing 10 times, lifting the trophy on no fewer than 5 occasions. Only Milan and Real Madrid have won and competed in more Champions League Finals than Munich has. That statistic is not only indicative of Bayern’s pedigree in Europe, it is also a benchmark of their objectives. In this regards, Pep has substantially failed, having taken Bayern to two consecutive Semi Finals where they were embarrassed by eventual winners Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014 and 2015 respectively. The demotivating demolitions of Bayern at Barcelona and Madrid’s hands have starkly displayed the gulf in class between Bayern and those expected of European Champions. With Bayern having lifted the famous trophy on the eve of Guardiola’s arrival, the minimum expectations of matching the previous regime are ever present, regardless of the difficulty of the expectations themselves. With the final year of his three year contract commencing, Guardiola would have one final chance to prove to Munchners that he was indeed the man to take this storied club forward.
With domestic challenges under control, the demand for better performances in Europe could only get louder. Dortmund, being the last team to win the Bundesliga besides Bayern, are under a phase of transition, with the resignation of their talismanic manager, Klopp. This would relatively ease Bayern’s concerns of retaining the Bundesliga at a comfortable pace this season, unless winners-up Wolfsburg mount a serious challenge. With the prospect of that diminishing as uncertainty over the future of their star player, De Bruyne, grows, the focus will firmly be on conquering Europe.
The Bavarians were routed comprehensively at the Semi-Finals stage by a rampant Barcelona side the previous season. With Lionel Messi at the head of their ruthless performance, Barcelona clearly demonstrated the standards necessary to be Europe’s premier team. Pep Guardiola employed a naive, attacking, man-marking system with only three defenders at the Camp Nou and was thoroughly outclassed by his former charges. The resulting scoreline of 3-0 was a result of a mixture of the brilliant goalkeeping by Manuel Neuer’s and the Catalans profligacy in taking their chances. With a substantial lead, the second leg was not expected to be anything more than a formality. While Bayern retained some pride in defeating Barcelona 3-2 at the Allianz Arena, it was merely a nominal pleasure while the majority brooded on yet another unsuccessful European campaign under the Spaniard.
There were more grumbles and cause for concern as the long serving Team Doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt , quit under a storm of clashes with Guardiola. The two men had never seen eye-to-eye over the treatment of Bayern’s star players. With Robben, Schweinsteiger and Ribery missing large parts of the campaign, the finger was routinely pointed at the medical staff, with Guardiola expressing his discontent on numerous occasions. A host of injuries to Bayern’s stellar names was a significant factor in their eventual defeat in the Champions League. With the club acceding to Guardiola’s perspective of Bayern’s medical team, his third season would see him exerting a level of influence and control at the club that makes him fallible in the eyes of the public. Another season of injuries would certainly question the club’s judgement to back Guardiola, and not Muller-Wohlfahrt , in the hostility between the two men.
Most challenging of all, is to win over the Bayern fans. The Bavarians have been only too happy to remind Pep, that before his arrival in Munich, in 2013, Bayern were playing some beautiful, effective, counter-attacking football. Physically and tactically dominating opponents including the likes of Barcelona, they were described by Franz Beckenbauer, a Bayern and German Icon, as ‘the best Bayern Side ever’. Pep’s implementation of a patient, passing style with traces of an outmoded Tiki-Taka has not been received well by Fans and Pundits. Bayern’s predictability and lack of imagination were ruthlessly punished by the tactically agile Ancelloti and Enrique over two seasons. While winning the Bundesliga does point to its efficiency, the lack of adequate competition in a weakened, monopolistic league takes the shine off this accolade. Guardiola’s tactical nous and adaptability has come into question with many pondering the Treble winners suitability for Bayern Munich.
This season, Guardiola must justify his philosophy and faith in a football system many decry as past it’s glory days. The best way, the only way is to do that with success. And Success as it means to the local Bayern fan supping his beer at a Bavarian tavern.
What needs to be done?
The Bavarians meek conclusion to the season demanded a rigorous response, and as a result, has led to some great business in the Transfer market. The acquisition of promising youngster Douglas Costa and the imminent purchase of Arturo Vidal will energise Bayern’s ambitions next season. The presence of an all-action, box-to-box midfielder in Vidal would undoubtedly strengthen Bayern’s central midfield which has lacked bite over recent times. While Gotze and Xabi Alonso are premium footballers, neither possess the boundless energy that Vidal provides. While Manchester-bound Schweinsteiger and ageing regulars Lahm, Ribery and Robben need to be replaced, the feeling is that a combination of promising youngsters and careful rotation would delay the urgency till next season.
In Guardiola’s mind, the more pressing concern would be to keep his squad fit and scorn of injury. With Thiago Alcantara’s impact severely diluted by the midfielder’s ravaged knee, Guardiola was arguably unable to successfully implement his footballing philosophy. Alcantara was a player moulded and nurtured by Guardiola, with the capability to transform his manager’s strategy onto the pitch. His presence, and combination, with a hustling Vidal would be an intriguing thought to many fan and pundit.
Mario Gotze is another performer who transformed into an unforseen problem child. With the former Dortmund player a shadow of himself, the need to successfully incorporate him into the fold would add a further dimension to Bayern’s play.
Guardiola has not delivered all that was expected of a new Bayern manager when he took over in 2013. Jupp Heynckes set the standard at a mercilessly ambitious level during his two-year spell with the Bavarians and their demands are voracious. Conquering Europe in the final year of his contract would efficiently silence his many detractors and naysayers while he himself would depart in style. If he fails, expect them to crow louder than ever, with many analysing his success with Barcelona as attributable to Messi and others to judge him oudated. Staying relevant at the highest levels is one of the greatest achievements of many managers. And while Guardiola’s successes with Barcelona has etched his place in Catalan and Football memory, his own legacy remains in doubt.
As the project at the Parc-des-Princes enters it’s fifth year, the boardroom over at Qatar Sports Investment would be sighing with contentment. After missing out on the League Championship in their first year of management, Al-Khelaifi and his minions have engineered a total domination of Ligue 1. With three successive League Championships and 5 domestic cups, the proposed reinvention of Paris Saint-Germain as France’s undisputed premier club is well under way. Laurent Blanc has admirably filled the vacancy left behind by Carlo Ancelloti and given his relative inexperience, has led the Parisien club to two League Championships and a Quarter Final berth in the Champions League where they were dispatched by eventual champions Barcelona.
Yet a feeling of discontent remains around the Parc-des-Princes. While the Parisiens profile has certainly increased over the past three years, they have still failed to hit predicted heights and popularity that was expected by Qatar Sports Investment. European trophies look a million miles away and while PSG’s run in the Champions League eclipsed their previous campaign, it was minor progress, if any. Their eventual dismantling by Barcelona indicated that PSG were, frankly, lucky to get to the Quarter Finals, advancing past an equally stuttering Chelsea.
While Laurent Blanc may have accumulated domestic success, he would have to raise his game to prove his worth in leading PSG to the next step in their evolution.
Much like Bayern Munich, PSG’s ambitions can only be matched with success on the continent. Unlike their Bavarian colleagues, however, PSG have little history or heritage in Europe to call upon, leaving them relatively unknown across the continent. European success is a necessity in PSG’s progress for reasons not wholly football in nature. The French club’s domestic success and acquisition of the perpetually entertaining Zlatan Ibrahimovich have undoubtedly raised their profile across world football, yet the French club remains a newfangled fad for most football enthusiasts. In order to cement their place across the landscape of World Football, success, or at the very least, advancement in the most prominent of club competitions will acquaint fans worldwide to the Parisien Club.
In addition to featuring more often in the latter stages of the Champions League, Blanc has a serious question to ponder. With Zlatan Ibrahimovich approaching the age of 34, PSG need a new talisman, both on the pitch and off. His fame, charisma and sheer talent has brought the club into the spotlight, but with his ability on the wane, and his influences in matches no longer as badly missed as it once was, PSG would require a new focal point. Edinson Cavani could be a contender, yet the Uruguayan’s future has been called into doubt in successive summers, with reports from the capital suggesting that he is unhappy with Blanc’s use of him in a wider role than he is used to. Considering Cavani’s role in the team has been adjusted to accommodate Zlatan, he would be the principal beneficiary of any changes in policy. Zlatan’s mooted return to Italy has opened the door to Cavani, and it seems a matter of time, and not it, that he will be PSG’s lead striker and goalscorer. Worryingly though, Cavani has not thrived in the spotlight, with many misses and quiet games against the best teams on the continent. Blanc may be considering bringing someone in rather than trying to mould Cavani into the player PSG need.
While winning the Champions League would be a magnificent footballing success for the Parisiens, their need to define their future, through players and a style of play, would go a longer way to laying a bedrock to their fledgling reputation and quick progress. While Blanc is just the manager
What needs to be done
With the lifting of Financial Fair Play Sanctions, PSG are once again free to use their owners stockpiles of oil-earned cash to strengthen their squad. Angel Di Maria is looking increasingly certain to join the Parisiens. The Manchester United record buy has struggled to adapt to life in England, and his preference for the sights of Paris were an open secret last year as well when he was forced out of Real Madrid. FFP sanctions on PSG ensured that Di Maria was left with no alternative but to go to United in a British-record 59 Million Euros transfer. Having made an underwhelming start to his year in England, the Argentine showed everyone his true potential with some scintillating performances for his country in the Copa America. With the memory of his role in Real Madrid’s Decima triumph fading, the Copa America came at the perfect time for the Argentine to showcase his skills and put himself back on the shop window. Talks between the two clubs have already begun with United determined to recoup a sizable portion of their outlay on the winger.
Barring Di Maria, PSG have been in the mix for some of Europe’s biggest names, including countryman Paul Pogba. However, the much maligned Ligue 1 isn’t considered to be amongst Europe’s most competitive leagues with a distinctly lesser allure than the Premier League or La Liga. However, money does help in providing solace to the stars willing to join PSG, so there may be more twists and turns before the end of the transfer season. PSG have been linked with some of the most coveted playes on the continent including Di Maria, Gotze, De Bruyne and Pogba. With the additions of one or two astute signings, they could take themselves from Ligue 1 Champions to Champions League winners in the space of a season.
Transfer business aside, Blanc must show more inspired generalship than demonstrated so far. Irrespective of his success in Ligue 1, the 49 year old has been out of his depth when faced with some of Europe’s more illustrious managers. Facing Mourinho in 2013, the Frenchman held a commanding 3-1 lead ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge. A muted performance, with Cavani missing a few clear-cut chances in place of the injured Zlatan, and a lack of tactical awareness eventually condemned them to a 2-0 defeat, eliminating them from the competition on away goals. A year on, Blanc managed to defeat Chelsea in a thrilling game at Stamford Bridge before facing Barcelona in the Quarter Finals. Yet if that was to indicate progress, a brutal awakening was in order. PSG were decimated 5-1 by Barcelona over the two legs, with Blanc never looking confident enough in his tactics or his side. The relatively inexperienced Frenchman has been called into question over his suitability to deliver when it really matters, with many pundits and fans suggesting a more seasoned manager is in need.
Holding a substantial advantage in terms of money and a lack of domestic rivals warrants better performances in Europe than has been witnessed so far. Blanc’s credentials to managing PSG in the long run has been enhanced by his domestic success over the past two years. However, for Al-Khelaifi to realise his dream of seeing PSG amongst the greats of Europe, changes may be in order if Blanc fails to deliver again.
How can a manager who has failed to win the Championship in more than a decade be under threat? With successive FA Cup wins over the past two years to break their trophy drought, the Gunners are in a stronger position than ever to compete for greater honours. So why exactly would Arsene Wenger be under scrutiny from many fans and pundits alike?
As much credit as some Arsenal fans would give the FA Cup, it is a widely acknowledged fact that it doesn’t enjoy the same status as the Premier League or the Champions League. A sizable proportion of Gooners remain staunchly opposed to Wenger, with calls for change growing louder in recent years. Wenger’s contract remains strong till 2017, and with the board at the Emirates unwilling to make radical changes, his job security remains almost unparalleled in the game. These detractors amongst the club’s own supporters must be appeased and in 2015, Wenger must deliver success, or at the least, look like genuine title contenders, a feat which has eluded them for a substantial period of time. The glory days of the ‘Invincibles’ and appearing in the finals of the Champions League in 2006 have long been consigned to memory and recent performances haven’t come close to awakening them.
With the unwanted record of faltering at the Round of 16 over 5 consecutive seasons in the Champions League, the Gunners must advance to the latter stages of the competition to have a chance of displaying progress. Last year’s tie with a weakened and financially stringent Monaco offered Arsenal that chance, yet they conspired to fail again. Monaco scalped a shock 3-1 result at the Emirates and held on for a 1-0 reversal at home to dump the Gunners ignominiously out of Europe.
With the league title all but over by the end of February, the Gunners enjoyed a strong finish to the season, culminating in the retaining of the FA Cup at Wembley against Aston Villa. While there was some mesmerizing football on offer, the view from pundit and fans alike was that Arsenal never failed to perform while the pressure was off. Barring the FA cup victory over Manchester United and an away win against Manchester City, Wenger’s side collected a mere 6 points from a possible 18 against the other teams in the top four. Accumulating a better record against the elite would push the Gunners onto a first League Title since 2004.
Only by pushing hard for these two titles would restore some of the early glitter associated with Wenger’s reign. Until then, his doubters and critics would continue to point out the Frenchman’s failings on the stages where it really matters.
What needs to be done
Reinforcements in the transfer window are a must, if the Gunners are to seriously challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League. While the emergence of Francis Coquelin has raised an effective shield for the back four, the youngster is not expected to effectively contest the elite squads of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Olivier Giroud is another suspected weak link in the Gunners squad, with the Frenchman missing many chances in the bigger games, with his howler against Monaco in the second leg fresh in the memory of Arsenal Fans everywhere. While he boasts a decent return of goals, the overwhelming feeling that these are mostly scalped against lower league opposition remains.
The captiue of Petr Cech has been an unexpected boon to Arsenal. The shot stopper is ideally suited to fill a concerning position for the Gunners since the departure of Jens Lehmann in 2010. With experience, knowledge and excellent aerial command, the Czech International will add that one trait that has been missing from Wenger’s squads over the past decade ; winning. Cech is used to winning the highest honours with Chelsea and his determination and leadership will be crucial for Arsenal in what is being touted as the season to break the decade long hoodoo that has settled over the club.
Further premier replacements in the squad would be an additional bonus, and the mooted transfer of Vidal was seen as an exciting step for many Gooners. However, with the Chilean on his way to the Allianz Arena, Arsenal may need a new premier signing, as they have pursued for the previous two years, with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez lighting up the Emirates in recent memory.
Tactically, Wenger seems a match for most managers in Europe (Barring Mourinho who he has now failed to beat on 13 occasions). He displayed some unforseen innovation this season with counter-attacking tactics against Manchester City and was lauded for his changes to tried-and-tested techniques. If the money at Arsenal is put to prudent use, the Emirates might just see a guard of honour. Only this time, it won’t be for a rival.
Wenger’s legacy in the history of great managers is assured. With his revolutionary fitness and dietary regimes, attractive football and record of forging youth talent, ‘Le professeur’ will be rightly remembered as a great and innovative manager. There is still time for one last honour to be accumulated in the depleted Emirates trophy room.