Pep Guardiola prepares to face the ultimate challenge

Christof Koepsel

Pep Guardiola's sabbatical is almost over and the former Barcelona manager will now embark on the biggest challenge so far in his career. He must prove that he's a fantastic head coach, not just the successful manager of a fantastic roster.

BREAKING NEWS! PEP GUARDIOLA IS COMING BACK TO COACHING!

Well no %#$@!.

Why is this a news story? I love Pep Guardiola as much as anyone and I'm really excited to see him test himself at a club other than Barcelona, but this is virtually a non-story. I blame the sudden lack of excitement in the early part of the transfer window for forcing us to discuss this.

What most mainstream media outlets aren't discussing is the truly interesting part of this story. This is the beginning of the rest of Pep Guardiola's career. No one doubts all his success at Barcelona, but now he must step out on his own without Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and others and prove he's a truly great head coach and not just a superb manager of superb talents.

Here are the details before I start going off on my tangent. According the BBC, Guardiola is ready to head back to the touchline, but he doesn't know where yet.

"I have taken a decision to return to coaching but beyond that no decision has been taken. I don't have a team to go to but I would like to go back to coaching."

Wow, now that is some serious breaking news. After all, that's basically what Guardiola has been saying since he left the Barcelona job in the first place. I'm taking a break but I'll be back...well, duh. I suppose it would have been possible for Guardiola to like not coaching so much he never came back, but we knew this was coming.

In the last seven months during Pep's sabbatical, he has been linked with every single team on the planet at least once. Alright, that's an exaggeration, but it sure feels that way. Most recently, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Chelsea have been the most commonly mentioned teams in connection with Guardiola, but I would expect Internazionale and Milan to be in the mix considering how rough things are for those two Italian giants at the moment.

The interesting thing about this story (and yes, there is something interesting) is watching the scramble to get the services of a coach who has had a ton of success in a near-perfect vacuum. As I said before, I love Pep and admired what he accomplished at Barcelona, but is that a guarantee of future success?

The Barcelona team he managed was basically the equivalent of building an all-star team on FIFA '13 or Football Manager and stomping through a league and competition like Godzilla on a rampage. Guardiola did a fantastic job of balancing egos and guiding the ship, but that was a near-perfect situation for him. He did an amazing job of managing that team, but he's likely to step in to a job that will require him to do a great deal more in terms of building a roster and solving whatever problems are already in place.

This might be highly stressful for Pep but it's going to be a ton of fun for us, the soccer observers. Guardiola is preparing to step out of his comfort zone and face a new situation with unfamiliar players, new league regulations and new expectations. There's a real chance that this highly regarded head coach who has won (as a manager) three La Liga titles, three Supercopa de Espana titles, two Copa Del Rey titles, two Champions League titles, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA World Club Cups, will fall flat on his professional face.

Guardiola could step in at City, Bayern, or Milan and craft a roster that goes on to rival his success at Barca...or he could prove to be incapable of dealing with a situation other than what Barcelona offered.

I know, "what ifs" and "either/or" comments like that are the ultimate in riding the fence, but we simply don't know what Pep is going to do. We think he's a great coach, we think he'll be successful, but there are lingering doubts that make the real story here.

Personally, I think Pep Guardiola will be a success wherever he goes because he's both a good manager and I truly believe he won't put himself in a situation that he feels could be detrimental to his career. Despite that, the pressure on him is going to be insane and I'm not sure we'll have seen anything like it in the past.

By the time Jose Mourinho was really on everyone's radar he'd won a Champions League with Porto and a handful of trophies at Chelsea. When he left for Inter, he was a proven commodity in two situations. This will only be Guardiola's second top flight coaching job and he's going to be judged by his past accomplishments with what might have been one of the best rosters ever assembled in the sport.

How do you avoid going downhill from there? How do you top that?

That's the real challenge Pep Guardiola faces and that's why you should pay attention to where Pep goes and what he does.

That's the real story.

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