Praise and plaudits rained down on Josep Guardiola and FC Bayern München after they wrapped up their 24th Bundesliga title in record time on Tuesday. But, observed Germany coach Joachim Löw, "the season is far from over. They are just getting started in the Champions League."
When Guardiola was announced as Jupp Heynckes's successor last winter there was widespread approval but, as an incredible 2012/13 season went on, also a nagging doubt over whether this Bayern team could actually be improved. After winning 3-1 at Hertha BSC Berlin on Tuesday night and sealing the championship with an unprecedented seven games to spare, no one is asking that any longer.
Already dominant, Bayern have found another gear in 2014, with Guardiola providing fresh impetus to his all-conquering side. "Praise has to go to the coach and the team," said Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer after the match in Berlin. "After last season, with all its success, we have stayed focused on our work. Last season we built strong foundations with Jupp Heynckes, and then signed a coach in Pep Guardiola who fits beautifully with this club."
Guardiola admits that even he has been surprised by the smoothness of the transition. "I am pleased and very happy that we have clinched the title," said the 43-year-old, who claimed three Liga titles as FC Barcelona boss. "In the league you have to work hard every week. This title is important for the club and a product of our hard work. I would never have expected things to go this well. We had lots of problems in the first four, five months, and lots of injured players. But we have improved day by day."
Goalkeeper turned pundit Oliver Kahn, who lifted eight Bundesliga crowns with FCB, is a little more emphatic. "Individual class, tactical and mental strength, lots of quality in a deep squad – Bayern have possibly never had a team as continually successful as this one under Pep Guardiola." A 52-game unbeaten league run attests to that, 16 matches more than any other side has managed in the history of the Bundesliga.
Manuel Neuer, Kahn's long-term replacement between the sticks, sounded a similar note, saying: "We took the momentum from our treble season and went with it. Nobody would have thought things would go like this. This coach is taking us forward."
But, Löw points out, it is still March: Bayern's appetite for silverware has not been sated by their third trophy of the campaign following the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. "Guardiola has advanced the team and put his mark on it, especially in the areas of dominance and possession," he said. "Bayern have every chance of repeating last season's successes. The season is not yet over for Bayern; it is only just starting in the Champions League."
Bayern meet Manchester United FC in the quarter-finals on 1 and 9 April. Defending the title would be another historic first, but you would not bet against it.
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