Pep Guardiola is one of the most polarizing figures in world football. The Bayern Munich trainer is seen by many as a god of coaching who can do no wrong, while to others he is a fraud.
Few have a neutral opinion on Guardiola, whether about his record, his performance, his aptitude in any of the many areas of coaching, or his personality.
This article will attempt to assess Guardiola objectively based on his performance in the 2015-16 season at Bayern. Coaching is a complicated profession, so he will be assessed based on his tactical, motivational and squad-building performance, as well as the results he and his Bayernteam achieved.
In the end, he'll be assessed on aggregate and given a final grade, summing up his overall performance as a coach in 2015-16.
Tactics are the area Guardiola is most renowned for, but the 2015-16 season seemed to show that part of coaching isn't his strongest point. True, he made some daring decisions, but willingness to try strange things doesn't necessarily make these decisions brilliant, even if they result in wins.
The decision to play Jerome Boateng in midfield against Hertha Berlin last November, for example, didn't cost Bayern any points, but it limited the centre-back's effectiveness by using him in a role in which his strengths are utilized less and his weaknesses become more prominent.
There were some tactical successes, like playing with five forwards and undersized centre-backs and still maintaining a great defensive record.Guardiola got his attackers to defend on the front foot, and his back line spent more time chasing hopeful long balls and clearances than defending in a classical sense.
Still, Guardiola appeared to meet his match tactically twice in the UEFAChampions League: against Juventus and Atletico Madrid.
Massimiliano Allegri set up his Juve side perfectly to face Bayern: In spite of the absence of his best defender (Giorgio Chiellini in both legs), striker (Paulo Dybala, in the second leg), and key midfielder Claudio Marchisio(for three-quarters of the tie), Juve were going to advance until a last-gasp equalizer forced extra time and Bayern eventually advanced.
Atleti played the first leg of the semi-finals without Diego Godin, perhaps the most important player in their defense-oriented team, and with a squad that simply did not match Bayern's available team man-for-man.
Yet Diego Simeone got the better of the former Barcelona boss (this article discusses Guardiola's tactical mistakes in the first leg), and although it was close until the end, his unfavored side came out victorious.
What Guaridola lacked tactically, he made up for in terms of motivating his players. It's important to distinguish one from the other.
Whether threatening his players with castration at half-time of the second leg of the Juventus tie (as Thomas Muller joked, per Goal) or screaming in young Joshua Kimmich's face after the March draw with Dortmund,Guardiola regularly got the best out of his team, and Bayern rarely looked anything but up for the task.
The team was supremely confident and never looked out of contention, even in the few instances in which the odds of their success looked slim.
Motivation was perhaps the single most important factor in Bayern's success in the 2015-16 Bundesliga and in the DFB-Pokal.
Winning league games against opponents that are typically much lesser is rarely a tactical achievement (individual class can make the difference), but making world-class stars play at a world-class level against a team likeDarmstadt, three days after a big Champions League game, isn't easy.
And in the Pokal final, it was immense confidence that predictably saw the Bavarians defeat Borussia Dortmund on penalties.
Some have criticized Guardiola for being bailed out by the likes of Muller and Robert Lewandowski, and although it's true that monumental individual efforts from the forwards often made up for the team otherwise looking off their best, the Spaniard deserves credit for providing the motivation, encouragement and support his players needed to perform.
It's an area of coaching that should not be taken for granted, especially in the age of great motivators like Simeone and Jurgen Klopp.
It should be said that Guardiola is leaving Bayern at a time in which the squad is still greatly in flux.
When the Bavarians won the treble in 2013, they had no key players who were past their prime. Franck Ribery had just turned 30 and had some time left, but it was clear that Bayern would have to start thinking about replacing him and 29-year-olds Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben and Dante, as well as 28-year-old Bastian Schweinsteiger, in the years to come.
As it stands, Lahm is still the only right-back of quality, and Xabi Alonso also remains a key starter at the age of 34. There are some question marks regarding the club's future in the winger positions.
On the other hand, Bayern look to be in a better position now than they were a year ago, at least in terms of their long-term squad-building.
After failing to integrate Mario Gotze, Pierre Hojbjerg, Gianluca Gaudino, Mitchell Weiser, Sinan Kurt and Sebastian Rode in previous years,Guardiola had his first two successes in youth development at Bayern this season.
Kimmich and Kingsley Coman made huge strides, the former proving useful in a variety of defensive and midfield roles, while the latter grew into a player capable of deciding big Champions League games as he did in extra time against his parent club, Juventus.
Promoting young talent is typically a low-percentage endeavor, so the fact that Guardiola managed to bring two young stars up to senior-team status this season is a real accomplishment.
There is no questioning Guardiola's record in the Bundesliga: His Bayerntook 88 points from 34 games last season, the third-best points tally of all-time.
Bayern were defeated only twice, and conceded a record-low 17 goals. Their consistency was exceptional, and their effectiveness in winning match after match by any means necessary was a testament to their good coaching.
Some have said that this Bayern team would win the Bundesliga on auto-pilot, with individual class being enough. There is more than a grain of truth to this: Their wage bill and transfer budget dwarfs those of any competitor, and the Bavarians theoretically should win the league every year given their resources.
But as the 2015-16 season showed, things could have been much closer had Bayern been less consistent. Dortmund would have won the league in almost any Bundesliga season in history with the 78 points they earned.
The DFB-Pokal was a bit trickier than the Bundesliga in that one bad game could have ended Bayern's title hopes, but the tournament has, in a sense, become not much more than a Superpokal.
Bayern's path to the final included a fifth-tier side, a 2. Bundesliga club, a recently promoted Bundesliga side, and one that only avoided relegation from the first division in the final matchday of the season.
Their only true tests were against holders Wolfsburg and the final against Dortmund. Guardiola deserves credit for instilling the confidence in his team needed to see out the scoreless 120 minutes with BVB and still feel calm enough to win in penalties.
In the Champions League, Bayern were defeated at the semi-final stage for the third consecutive year under Guardiola.
Things looked good in the fall, when they took 15 of 18 possible points in the group stage and looked as strong as any. The fact that they managed the improbable in scoring two late goals against Juventus in the round of 16 was also encouraging, in that it showed Bayern had phenomenal grit and resilience.
But 2-2 draws away to Juve and Benfica were clear signals that Bayernhad weaknesses that could be exploited, and Atleti took advantage. The Bavarians were quite poor in Madrid, and they didn't have enough to complete a comeback in Munich.
Fine margins can decide big games, but Bayern can hardly consider themselves unlucky after the tie. They had two close calls and were successful in one, unsuccessful in the other.
An exit on goal difference at the semi-finals level is by no means embarrassing, but there is a certain degree of justifiable disappointment in Guardiola, especially as his tactical decisions cost a Bayern side that had an advantage in terms of player quality.
Assessments of Guardiola's performance typically end up in hyperbole, polarized to one side or another. In this author's opinion, however, the trainer's performance level was somewhere in the middle.
He achieved results that others have in the past without being considered gods, and given his unprecedented financial advantages above all in domestic competitions, the Bundesliga and Pokal titles should be taken as a meeting—but not exceeding—of expectations.
The Champions League ended with Bayern unable to reach the final for a third consecutive year, which again isn't failure so much as disappointment. Yet in fairness, the club have evolved and made some important progress ahead of Carlo Ancelotti's arrival.
On the whole, Guardiola wasn't a "failure" by any means, but to give him straight As would be setting the bar far too low.
Final Grade: B+