Football - UPDATE 2-Soccer-Ambitious Bayern hand the reins to Guardiola

* Former Barca coach to take over in July

Reuters

* Agrees contract until end of June 2016 (Adds quotes, background)

MUNICH, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Bayern Munich have underlined the scope of their ambition by announcing the appointment of spectacularly successful former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola to replace Jupp Heynckes from the end of this season.

Spaniard Guardiola, 41, will take over from Heynckes, who has decided not to extend his contract, in July and has agreed a deal until the end of June 2016, Bayern said in a statement on their website (www.fcbayern.telekom.de) on Wednesday.

"We are very pleased that we have managed to convince the football expert Pep Guardiola, who was coveted and contacted by many top clubs, to come to Bayern Munich," Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

"Pep Guardiola is one of the world's most successful coaches and we are sure that he can bring a great deal of sparkle not only to Bayern Munich but to German football in general," he added.

Bayern's announcement brings to an end weeks of speculation about which club would win the race to hire Guardiola, who announced this month he would return to coaching next season after taking a year out to rest.

He stepped down as Barca coach at the end of last term after leading the La Liga club, where he began his career as a player, to 14 trophies in four years, including two Champions League crowns and three straight Spanish league titles.

It is a significant coup for the German club, runners-up in Europe's elite club competition last season, given that big-spending rivals, including Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris St Germain, were reportedly also hoping to hire Guardiola.

Speaking to the English Football Association as part of the organisation's 150th anniversary celebrations this week, Guardiola had said his ambition was to manage in the Premier League in future.

Under his guidance, his first top-flight coaching job, Barca won plaudits for their entertaining, attacking brand of soccer based on domination of possession and swift, one-touch passing.

Many credit Johan Cruyff, another former Barca player and coach, with creating the club's distinctive style and Guardiola played under the Dutchman in the 1990s when the club won their first European Cup.

The ex-Spain international also won praise for getting the best out of quadruple World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, to whom he gave more liberty to roam the pitch than his predecessor as coach Frank Rijkaard.

FORMER CHARGES

Whether Guardiola's philosophy and tactics will suit Bayern and the Bundesliga remains to be seen.

There is also a question mark over whether he can manage a group of players the majority of whom, unlike at Barca, did not come through the club's academy.

One player at the German club he already knows well is Spain midfielder Javi Martinez, who joined in the close season.

Guardiola may be hoping to lure some of his former charges to Germany to join Martinez and his imminent return to coaching has already prompted Barca president Sandro Rosell to warn him off.

Bayern are top of the Bundesliga with a nine-point lead after 17 matches. The league resumes this week after a month-long winter break and they meet Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League when the competition resumes next month. (Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Justin Palmer)

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