Guardiola’s doubters remain despite Bundesliga-Pokal double


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"It was the most important season of my short coaching career," stated Pep Guardiola, beer-drenched but delighted after completing the Bundesliga-Pokal double in his first season at Bayern Munich.

"I learned a lot," he added, but there are indications he still needs to keep studying, and not only to improve his stuttering German.

The verdict is unanimous: Bayern's season would have looked very different had they not won the Pokal. That they did is in part down to referee Florian Meyer and his assistant, Frank Willenborg, who failed to spot Mats Hummels' effort had crossed the line before Dante hacked clear just after the hour mark.

"Victory was important both internally and externally," explained captain Philipp Lahm, hinting at what defeat to Dortmund in Berlin might have meant.

It seems strange to say that losing to Dortmund would have cast a rather gloomy cloud over a campaign in which Bayern won the Bundesliga title at autobahn-esque speed. But coming on the back of their stunning Champions League rout at the gifted feet of Real Madrid and the inevitable, unhelpful comparisons with last season's treble, the Pokal final took on greater-than-usual proportions.

Defeat would surely have not brought a swift end to Guardiola's tenure in Bavaria. At the post-final celebrations in the capital, Bayern boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge gave a speech to the assembled throng in which he unequivocally backed the Spaniard, and Guardiola will need that support from the Bayern elders if he is to continue building the team his way.

He has already shown he will not shy away from making difficult decisions in leaving Mario Mandzukic out of the closing stages of the season after the Croatian international - let's not forget, Bayern's leading scorer this season - told Rummenigge he wanted to leave with Robert Lewandowski on his way.

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Like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto'o before him, Mandzukic has learned Guardiola can be ruthless when he feels commitment to the cause is waning. It may be a streak that will need to be shown still more in the coming weeks and months.

Like Louis van Gaal before him, Guardiola has seen that on-pitch success is no guarantee of respect for the man in charge, and that the Bayern dressing-room could get away from him without careful attention.

"Above all, we functioned as a team," said Dante after the cup win, while Jerome Boateng remarked: "There was a real team out there on the pitch again today."

The centre-backs' comments suggest that is not always the case, and emphasise the work Guardiola needs to do in keeping his troops united, particularly with a Bayern legend like Franz Beckenbauer weighing in with headline-grabbing criticism of the team's style of play, further undermining the coach's position.

Both Thomas Mueller and Franck Ribery have appeared to question Guardiola's authority this season. Though he still made an impressive contribution with 24 goals in 45 competitive outings, Mueller stalked angrily from the pitch and sulked when he was substituted in key games.

Ribery, significantly less influential than in 2012/13, felt the week leading up to the Pokal final was an opportune moment to question Guardiola's 'squad rotation'. "I need to play," the Frenchman had stated. "I maybe need a break after five or six games, not one." Guardiola cannot let such insubordination get out of hand.

The Pokal final did repair some of the damage done to Guardiola's reputation for tactical astuteness. After admitting he got it wrong against Real Madrid in Bayern's stunning semi-final losses, he wowed his bosses in electing for an unprecedented back three against Dortmund - "It's the first time anyone has played with a back three in Germany," an admiring Rummenigge said - in which the hitherto under-used Javi Martinez shone.

It will not, however, prevent questions being raised when Bayern, undoubtedly, reach the business end of the Champions League once again next season. Guardiola will have to silence the doubters - and perhaps even some members of his own squad - on the European stage come 2014/15.

Ian Holyman, on Twitter @ian_holyman

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