It was on a cold December 2014 night that Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel enjoyed a very animated tête-à-tête in a popular Munich bar. The topic of conversation? Tactics.
In the Guardiola mould
Guardiola was midway through his second season in charge of FC Bayern München, while Tuchel was on a sabbatical year after stepping down as 1. FSV Mainz 05 head coach in May 2014. If reports are to be believed, the two strategical pedants used salt and pepper mills to convey their gamut of ideas in a veritable meeting of football minds.
Borussia Dortmund coach Tuchel, by his own admission, has long been an admirer of Guardiola's distinctive philosophy. At Mainz, he set his team up according to the task in hand, but was never afraid to tinker mid-game. He pursued refinement, perfection and sought solutions to problems that, to outsiders, did not exist. To all except a certain Catalan of a like-minded persuasion, that is.
Yet while Tuchel was busy bringing the very best out of a modest Mainz side that had only returned to the Bundesliga in 2009, Guardiola was fastidiously laying down the foundations for what became a much wider-reaching legacy at Barcelona. In the space of four decorated years comprising 14 domestic, European and world titles, he went from local hero to world football icon.
"Guardiola is the best, even if he doesn’t like to admit it," Tuchel told journalists earlier this season. "His time at Barcelona really left a lasting impression on me. As a fan I learnt so much. Barcelona under Pep was the benchmark for me."
Student meets master
A champion of homegrown talent with a reputation for passing opposition teams into submission, Guardiola has only added to his reputation as modern football's greatest thinker in Munich. Bayern have played with increased flexibility, unpredictability and harmony over the course of a three-year tenure that has yielded successive Bundesliga titles, and could yet end with a second DFB Cup and 18th overall.
For Tuchel, it all makes for one rather frightening proposition. The Krumbach native has downplayed Dortmund's chances of raining on Pep's farewell parade in Berlin this weekend, but he would not be where he is today if he did not have something fresh up his sleeve to try and finally get one over on his great Catalan muse. He is a self-professed disciple of the Guardiola school of thought, after all.