Pitchside

Guardiola’s self-belief makes ‘double-treble’ a reality for Bayern

Pitchside

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It's been a question that I've often pondered: 'What happens to the T-shirts of the losing side in a Superbowl?'

Yes, one of the burning issues of my youth has been - like so many American TV series and coffee houses - exported across the Atlantic in recent years with branded memorabilia on the backs of triumphant footballers as soon as the final whistle has sounded.

So it was at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday after Bayern Munich clinched the Bundesliga title in record time. Yet, there was never any danger the '24 Rekordmeister' T-shirts, caps and other commemorative regalia sported by Pep Guardiola and his boys would ever go to waste this season.

"We can see them, but we rather need a telescope," was Jürgen Klopp's reaction to the yawning 25-point gap between his Borussia Dortmund side and Bayern that means the Bavarians are champions with still seven games to go, one more than when they ran away with last season's 'Salad Bowl'.

Remarkably, Guardiola has somehow improved on what was seemingly done to perfection by Jupp Heynckes' treble-winning campaign of 2012/13.

"No-one has ever been champion so soon in the season. It's a sensational performance by Bayern," an admiring Ottmar Hitzfeld told French radio station RMC. "Pep Guardiola has managed to make a team that had won everything even better."

"The boys have improved after an incredible last year," said Guardiola simply after his team's triumph in the capital.

The experience of 2012/13, and no doubt the feeling of sheer invincibility it brought galvanised an already impressive unit into a side that seemed to believe in their divine right to victory, a sentiment many of their opponents appeared to share.

Individually, players such as David Alaba and Toni Kroos have unsurprisingly continued their progress, emerging as genuine world-class figures, augmenting the confirmed talents of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm.

If Guardiola's vision has been fundamental, Lahm's talent made him the key component of transferring that vision successfully onto the pitch. Who would have thought he would be so good in midfield?

Then again, the ease with which he switched from left-back to right-back in the past suggested that Lahm had the versatility to play pretty much everywhere bar goalkeeper where surely his diminutive stature would prove an insurmountable handicap.

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Just to illustrate the sheer success of his transition, Lahm made 134 passes against Hertha, and completed every single one.

"He was one of the best full-backs in the world, now he's one of the best midfielders," said Guardiola, adding the Germany captain is "one of the most intelligent players I've been in charge of."

That is quite an accolade coming from a man who directed the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. But it was his spotting of that intelligence, and the opportunity to use it to switch to 4-1-4-1 from the 4-2-3-1 that had worked so well under Heynckes that Guardiola must take credit for.

Though he pressed hard to bring in Thiago Alcantara, the former Barça boss realised he already had the raw (and not so raw) materials already at his disposal to make Bayern better. It was a brave yet entirely logical decision, the football equivalent of the saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

So many newly-appointed coaches want to bring in 'their men' in terms of both coaching and playing staff. Guardiola had the self-belief not to do that and the know-how to get still more out of the existing squad.

"We're lucky to have this coach," said Manuel Neuer. "He brings us on."

True to his unassuming form, Guardiola called his and his team's historical achievements "the product of hard work."

That will continue through to the season's end with the Pokal and the Champions League still well within the team's reach.

Bayern's kit manufacturer could not be called overly ambitious if they have already produced the clothing to accompany those triumphs, too.

Ian Holyman | On Twitter @ian_holyman

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