The following is an excerpt from Pep Confidential by Martí Perarnau, which is out now, and published by Arena Sport and BackPage. To read the rest of Planet Futbol's Inside the SuperClubs: Bayern Munich series, click here.
If anyone would prefer me not to make the decisions, no problem. You decide who’s going to play.” - Munich, October 18, 2013
Pep’s tactical talk delays the start of training by half an hour. He usually gives three per match. The day before he tells his players how their opponents will attack. Then, on the morning of the match, he describes their offensive and defensive strategy and that evening, in the team hotel, he runs over his tactical plan for Bayern’s attack.
It’s Friday and his men have been scattered by international call-ups for 12 days. He wants to rally the troops and shake them out of relaxed mode. Players tend to come back from these training breaks in different states of mind. Those who have won with their national side will be feeling pretty high, whilst those on the losing side will be suffering.
In any case, everyone’s happy to be back together again and there is a good deal of joking around. The Säbener Strasse dressing room is jumping. Pep, however, wants concentration and serious focus. He’s looking for the same level of intensity they produced in Manchester and Leverkusen. Thirteen days previously they left Leverkusen with a 1-1 draw, the same result as the Freiburg game at the end of August.
This time however, Bayern had put on a prodigious display of football, just like in Manchester, and Dortmund’s defeat by Borussia Monchengladbach propelled Guardiola’s team to the top of the Bundesliga table for the first time in the championship. Week eight and Bayern were right on track. Bayern had taken the euphoria from Europe-wide recognition for the manner of their victory in the Etihad Stadium to Leverkusen, and celebrated another festival of football three days later.
This time they didn’t win despite their overwhelming domination of their third-placed rivals. With the ball at their feet for 80 percent of the game, Bayern completed 90 percent of their passes accurately and had 27 shots at the redoubtable Bernd Leno’s goal, 18 of which hit the target. But Pep’s men managed to score just one goal, for a conversion rate of only 3.7 percent. Leverkusen produced a terrific series of blocks and saves and needed only three shots on target to score.
It has been two weeks since the midfield trio of Lahm, Kroos and Schweinsteiger were so impressive in Manchester and Leverkusen, and Guardiola wants everyone back on track. The international break was a parenthesis which he now wants closed as quickly as possible. His talk goes on for 35 minutes, twice as long as usual. The coach explains how tomorrow’s opponents, Mainz 05, play, describes how he wants to deal with them and finishes up with some instructions about the importance of maintaining solidarity.
“We must all show respect to each other. I know that you all want to play but that just isn’t possible and I have to choose the players I think are the most suitable. It doesn’t mean that those of you who don’t get a game and end up sitting on the bench are less able. It just means I haven’t picked you this time. But if you run off to the press or your agents saying that you should have played, you will be showing a lack of respect – not for me, but for the guy who did get a game, your teammate. If anyone would prefer me not to make the decisions, no problem. Be my guest. You get together and decide who’s going to play and who’s not.”
Clearly the aim of this unexpected and rather startling onslaught is not to incite a management takeover but to puncture some of the rather over-inflated egos which have returned from the fortnight’s break. Pep wants to reactivate his men’s all-for-one mentality. He wants to stop them slipping back into their comfort zone. Today the giant screens have come out for the first time.
Pep demanded them on his first day, back in June. He wanted to cover up training pitch No. 1 so that the press and scouts from other clubs could not spy on them. We know only too well that the coach prefers to work quietly, in privacy, away from prying eyes. Aware that a nearby hill offers a bird’s-eye view of Säbener Strasse, he asked that the club go a step further than just shutting the gates.
He wanted one training pitch completely shielded from public view. After an unacceptable delay of four months (due to the initial difficulty in finding materials which would do the job effectively), today, at last, a thick grey screen, blocking off the whole pitch, is installed. The sun is blazing in the Munich sky and just as he finishes his talk, Pep and his assistants comment that the screen probably isn’t sufficiently opaque to hide the training session completely. Anyone with their wits about them will still be able to see everything from the nearby mountain.
“Mountain? How do you say ‘mountain’ in German again? I can’t remember.” Heinz Jünger, Säbener Strasse’s head of security, who is always helpful and interested, intervenes to remind him that "berg" is the word Pep is looking for.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is the first player out onto the pitch. He is startled by the screen. Punching the air with both arms and shouting something unintelligible (or at least something we prefer to ignore) about the press, he indicates a distant point and says that someone is bound to turn up there and get a good shot, despite the screen’s arrival.
As it turns out the vice-captain is spot-on. A little later Markus Hörwick, the super-efficient communications director, rushes up to close a tiny crack through which a newspaper photographer is trying to grab an exclusive.