Pep Guardiola's name has been out of the spotlight for a little while now. Ever since the announcement that he'd be taking over as manager of Bayern Munich in the summer, the speculation over his future has died down, and he's now far enough in Barcelona's past that they're not talking about him all the time too. So, save for a few hilarious pieces about how he has one hundred billion euros to spend on rebuilding this already-quite-excellent Bayern side, it's all been pretty quiet on the Pep front.
Until now, that is. With Guardiola's past and Guardiola's future getting ready to duke it out in the UEFA Champions League, the man himself is back in the spotlight. Sadly, despite the prospect of an incredible match between two of the best teams Europe has to offer with the spectre of the man who might very well be the game's best manager lurking in the background, Pep stands to lose out no matter which way this semifinal goes.
For years, Guardiola's critics have insisted that the sheer talent he inherited at Barcelona makes it impossible to discern any real managerial acumen behind that sixth-form-history-teacher cardigan. And they have a point -- not everyone else has the luxury of getting to manage the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi, let alone Lionel Messi.
The claim that Guardiola hasn't proven himself to be a good manager is contestable. While he didn't acquire the aforementioned trio (and his transfers themselves might be charitably described as 'poor'), he did manage to engineer a system in which they could thrive, conceiving and implementing an entirely new style of play that, love it or hate it, completely changed the game.
But the argument is still up in the air, and should Barcelona triumph over Bayern Munich it'll go some way towards proving that Barcelona are juggernauts with or without him. In a season where, thanks to the deeply unfortunate illness that Tito Villanova is suffering through, it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that the players have no coach at all.
And if Barcelona reach the final, getting past the Bundesliga champions-elect and possibly Europe's strongest side in the process, they'll have done it without Pep. In the first year of his absence, in fact. Last season, with Pep in charge, the Catalans couldn't even beat Chelsea. Unfair though it might be, should Barca triumph here, Guardiola's reputation would take a deserved hit. After all, the players would have been used fine if they'd managed themselves.
If Barcelona lose, of course, Pep's reputation will remain intact. But that doesn't mean he's in the clear should Bayern make it to the final, because suddenly he'd be burdened with utterly impossible expectations. Jupp Heynckes, the man he's replacing in the summer, will have led his team to back-to-back Champions League finals, a feat Pep's never achieved. He'll have humbled upstarts Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. He could very easily earn the treble.
How, exactly, is Guardiola supposed to improve upon that? Win every game in every competition forever? It's all well and good hiring a legendary coach when your club's in need of help, but Bayern Munich are in such good shape at the moment that they're simply going to be setting themselves up for disappointment should they triumph this year. Should they make it to the final, they have every chance of beating whomever of Real Madrid and BVB advances, washing away the pain of last year's penalty shootout loss at the Allianz.
And then Guardiola will come in and... establish a dynasty that's quite clearly already there? Massively improve on a team that's already one of the most impressive in Europe? Beating Barcelona would make Bayern the first back-to-back Champions League finals since Manchester United in 2009, something most clubs would opt not to sack their coach over.
So yes, this semifinal's going to be all about Pep. But no matter the outcome, it can't possibly go well for him. The choice between a tarnished reputation and impossible expectations isn't going to be much fun.