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16th Feb 2016

Rafa Honigstein: Guardiola “divorce” shouldn’t stand in the way of Bayern’s Champions League pursuit

Tom Victor

The relationship between Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola won’t stop the club’s season being all about Champions League glory, German football expert Rafa Honigstein has told JOE.

While the higher-ups at the club may be more prepared to put up with the Catalan coach in the knowledge he is leaving in the summer, Honigstein is sure the players will still remain focused on the top prize.

Guardiola, who will move to Manchester City next season, is yet to win Europe’s top prize with the German club after leading Barcelona to glory in 2009 and 2011.

Barcelona v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Final

BT Sport’s Goals Show expert Honigstein has likened Guardiola’s long goodbye in Bavaria to the break-up of a marriage.

“There’s a feeling of a divorce going on, and while they want to move on on good terms, there isn’t that kind of determination to kiss and make up all the time,” he explained.

“They’ll think ‘okay, he’s annoying me again, but he’s off in three months – I don’t now have to change something or come back and say sorry’.”

He admitted the pressure on Guardiola at a personal level has grown slightly after falling at the semi-final stage in 2014 and 2015, even if those losses were against strong Real Madrid and Barcelona teams who went on to win the competition, and the meeting with in-form Juventus throws up another big challenge.

But much of the criticism of the coach, when it has been forthcoming, has largely been about his reluctance to take on what some perceive to be a serious challenge.

Guardiola’s success at Barcelona has been the subject of revisionism as the club continue to thrive under Luis Enrique, while Bayern’s treble-winning campaign under Jupp Heynckes has allowed sceptics to accuse the 45-year-old of never having been properly tested.

And while such an approach may be reductive and dismissive of the genuine progress he has achieved, the impending move to Manchester seems likely to keep the pro and anti camps firmly divided.

FC Bayern Muenchen v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga

Honigstein acknowledges that Guardiola will face pressure to win the Champions League every year for the foreseeable future, even if he emerges successful this year, meaning the coach’s hard work and desire will make the difference if anything.

He recognises that there is perhaps not the backs-against-the wall mentality which brought success in 2001 and 2013 after heartbreaking defeats not long before, but a passionate coach can still help bridge that gap and provide a trophy at the end of the season.

“Without 1999, 2001 probably wouldn’t have happened and without 2012, 2013 wouldn’t have happened,” Honigstein explains.

“There isn’t that sense of ‘we’re going to do everything and kill ourselves on the pitch to win it’, but they know their season is being measured in terms of the Champions League and they want to get it right. They know their season will be finished if they get knocked out.

“I don’t think Guardiola can work any harder – the guy is insane in the stuff he does and I think if he worked any harder he’d probably drive the team completely crazy.

“They have put up with a lot because they think he is brilliant – if a brilliant guy changes his mind a few times during a game, you think ‘ok, he’s brilliant’ and do it, and usually it’s beneficial. but if another manage does it the players would lose respect very quickly.”

BT Sport Champions League Opening Night - Goals Show

That’s something City’s players can expect next season when their new boss takes over.

One would expect Guardiola to take a very different approach to Manuel Pellegrini and his predecessor Roberto Mancini, both on and off the pitch, and it will take some adjustment.

For Bayern, though, the only thing that matters for the time being is the trip to Turin to face a Juventus side in the middle of an outrageous run.

After beginning the season with one win from six Serie A games, Max Allegri’s team have won the last 15 on the bounce to go clear at the top of the table.

It sets up an intriguing clash with the Bundesliga leaders which is almost too close to call, but victory for the Germans could yet pave the way for Guardiola to face off against his future employers later in the competition.

That, Honigstein says with a smile, would be “interesting”.

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