Thursday, 14 November 2013

Guardiola the only winner in Robben struggle

Pep Guardiola
The Spanish coach asserted his authority over the Dutchman in recent penalty dispute and Bayern's players will now know they need to fall into line

"You cannot just say, 'I'm the coach and I make the decisions.'"

Stefan Effenberg knows a thing or two about being on the wrong side of coaches. No surprise that he took the side of the dissident. 

"You have to explain these kinds of decisions as a coach. You're obliged to do that," he said. 

Like everybody else in the Allianz Arena, Effenberg had just watched Pep Guardiola humiliate Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich forward had picked up the ball and made off for the penalty spot when Nikolce Noveski fouled Bastian Schweinsteiger only for the order to come from the touchline to surrender the spot kick to Thomas Muller. He did as he was asked but he was not happy about it. 

Effenberg: "Your coach steps up like a schoolteacher telling you to give it to Muller. That's very bitter for any player and a bad situation to be in."

Robben had a short and sweet answer, saying: "I don't want to talk about it."

Bayern was leading Mainz, 3-1, at the time. Muller's penalty made it 4-1 with a few minutes to go. Hardly the penalty at Dortmund in 2012 which cost Bayern the title or the one in the Champions League final that Robben has against his name. But a power play nonetheless. Pep called the shots; called the shooter. 

What the coach says goes. 

  "He is still a little mad because of Saturday."
                                                                            - Franck Ribery

Robben can be an arduous character. Muller and Franck Ribery have both been involved in heated situations with the prickly winger that ended up in thrown punches. He hopped a sponsor board and scampered the long way round at Euro 2012, when Bert van Marwijk had the temerity to substitute him, instead of shaking hands with Dirk Kuyt who came on. 

Guardiola offered the olive branch a few days after the Mainz incident. Robben wouldn't take it. Bayern had another penalty. This time it came against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League. "Arjen!," "Arjen!," Pep called from the sidelines, trying to make amends with the man he disappointed at the weekend. 

He demurred. He gave the ball to Ribery who stroked it home and also spoke for his colleague in the aftermath. 1-0 on the scoreboard. 1-1 in Robben's head. When a player repudiates Guardiola's authority, there will only be one winner. Arjen, your card is marked.

  "Am I the foster kid in this family, the guy who    doesn't belong?"

                                                                          - Zlatan Ibrahimovic

If you want to see how Pep Guardiola deals with Problem Bears, read Zlatan Ibrahimovic's autobiography. The invective towards Pep spits up off every page he's mentioned. What also hits you is the lack of a Champions League medal. Pep has plenty of those and he didn't win them with players like Zlatan.

This was the swaggering Swede's assessment of the Barcelona dressing room: "Everybody was quiet and polite and a team player, and sometimes I'd think, these guys are superstars. Yet they behave like schoolboys."

They submit to the collective. They win trophies. 

"He doesn't seem to be able to handle guys like me. Maybe it's something as simple as a fear of losing his authority."

He did deal with you Zlatan; he sold you. 

Ibrahimovic was amazed that talents and egos like his were not pandered to at Camp Nou. But it was Xavi, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and Sergio Busquets, that made Barcelona what it is. Barca did it with Pep, for Pep. Ronaldinho, worn out, sold. Deco, disruptive, sold. Samuel Eto'o, gone. Thierry Henry, gone. Zlatan joined the club. 

Pep used to tell Zlatan: "We're regular guys." Time and again, the forward refers to the school structure at Barcelona. Kindergarten to graduation, in football terms. 

At Pep's Barca, it wasn't that creativity and expression were not tolerated. But those attributes were part of something bigger. The team. The team and its perpetuation above all else. 

"It’s about having control and being authoritative."

                                                                  - Sir Alex Ferguson

Twenty-seven years after he walked into Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson was asked by the Harvard Business Review to talk about his management approach. It was called Ferguson's Formula. 

"The job of a manager, like that of a teacher, is to inspire people to be better."

Again, teaching, schooling. 

Ferguson knew, too, what needed to be done when players did not fit, or outgrew, his structure. From match one to match 1500, the same man emerged victorious in the personal battles. Not Jaap Stam, not David Beckham, not Roy Keane, not Ruud van Nistelrooy. 

"I told myself I wasn’t going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was. Your personality has to be bigger than theirs. That is vital."

Anyone want to argue with Ferguson's legacy?

"I am a great friend of my players when they accept what I say."

                                                                                    - Pep Guardiola

Pep is going the same way. His way. 

Yes, he prefers to work with the academy kids, those with the club in their veins, than the blow-ins, those who will come and go. Bayern suits him. His lieutenants, Philipp Lahm and Schweinsteiger, bleed Bayern. The next generation, Toni Kroos, David Alaba and the man who took Robben's penalty do too. 

These are the player-types who make Guardiola sides successful. Zlatan and the rest of them can stay outside the schoolgates if they wish. Those who chirp from the sidelines or those dissatisfied with their roles in the team are collateral damage. You can't please everyone. 

Pep has yet to prove his way doesn't work.

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