BY MARK HARGREAVES
Ferguson never got on with Rafa, Clough didn’t see eye to eye with Revie and Mark Hughes doesn’t like anybody.
Football is a game of intense passions, managers have let their emotions get the better of them on numerous occasions and feuds are commonplace; but you would struggle to uncover a conflict as enduring as that between Jose Mourinho and Josep Guardiola.
The games’ two most highly rated managers will meet for the 17th time on September the 10th as they take their new sides into a Premier league season, both expected to bring glory to their respective ends of greater Manchester.
Mourinho is expected to rebuild the Red Devils’ reputation as one of the powerhouses of European football, something that has been up in the air since the retirement of Alex Ferguson.
Guardiola, meanwhile, is tasked with finally bringing European results after dizzying investment since Manchester City’s big money buy out by Sheikh Mansour. City have already won a Premier League title but owners and fans alike are looking to make the Citizens a regular feature on the big stage and add a Champions League trophy to the cabinet. Something Pep is as capable of doing as anybody.
The Manchester Derby in September will be watched with a beady eye. Not just as an indicator of who will land the first blow in the battle for Manchester but as another chapter in the long lasting hostility between the two Iberians.
Mourinho and Guardiola first crossed paths in 1996 when Pep was the lynchpin in Barcelona’s midfield and Jose was assistant to new manager, Bobby Robson. Relatively innocuous beginnings for what would follow.
Fast-forward 13 years, Guardiola called time on a playing career that was decorated with 6 league titles, 2 Copa Del Reys, and a European Cup. Moving in to management, the Spaniard spent a successful year in charge of Barca B before taking the big job. With the philosophy of total football instilled in him during his time playing under the great Johan Cruyff, Pep led the Catalonians to the treble in his first year, becoming the youngest manager ever to win the Champions League. Not too shabby.
Mourinho, meanwhile, had graduated from the tutelage of Sir Bobby and was considered one of the best young managers in the game having won the Champions League and UEFA Cup in successive seasons with relatively undervalued Porto before moving to Chelsea, winning the Premier League at the first two times of asking as well as an FA cup for good measure.
These were two men with an insatiable hunger for success. Guardiola – stoic and steely with a polished appearance. Mourinho – frantic and unapologetic in his pursuit for perfection, relishing the moniker of “The Special One” he gifted to himself in his first encounter with the British pess.
The stage was set, a Champions League group game at the San Siro.
It was, as the many more meetings to follow would be, a battle of tactics and creativity. Both with talented players at their disposal, Pep’s Barca probably had the edge with its quartet of Messi, Zlatan, Iniesta and Xavi. Mourinho’s Inter were canny operators, Javier Zanetti, Diego Milito and Lucio, old dogs with old tricks that wouldn’t make things easy for the Spaniards.
The game would finish 0-0. Not the first or last time a game involving Jose would be tightly fought. The return leg would give the spectators a little more for their money. Barca, without Ibrahimovic, Messi or Xavi dazzled Inter with an adroit display of passing; leading to goals from Gerard Pique and Pedro.
Mourinho wasn’t fazed, he said after the game “We’re far from being Barca in terms of individual qualities and profile. As a team, Barcelona are better than us. But if I had to play against Barca again tomorrow, I would already be ready. If you told me that Inter will face Barca in the semi-final, I will accept it already.”
And accept it he would. Jose and Pep would go toe to toe once more in the Semi Finals.
This game would also signal the start of the tempestuous relationship that the managers would share as they began their saga of dissention through the medium of post match interviews. Inter would win the first leg 3-1 at the San Siro but victory alone was not enough for Jose. We began to see that there was more than just a cup at stake here, more than just the win, there was something deeper for Mourinho.
Unhappy with Guardiola’s complaints about the referees’ decision not to award Barcelona a penalty for a foul on Dani Alves, Mourinho said, “A year ago Chelsea were crying and Barca were laughing with the referee. They laughed because he denied my Chelsea boys their rightful place.”
Whether Pep knew it or not, Mourinho had scores to settle with Barca. Beating them seemed to bring the Portuguese manager more satisfaction than victories against other sides and losing to them, more ire.
Inter would lose the return leg 1-0, winning the tie on aggregate and lifting the cup, beating Bayern Munich in the Final. Something tells you that the semi meant more to Jose.
“It is the most beautiful defeat of my life,” he said. “It is a style of blood not skill. We were a team of heroes. It’s a pity I could not play because I have got the same blood. I have already won a Champions League but today was even better. We made huge sacrifices.”
The two managers would not wait long before their paths crossed again. After leading Inter to become the first Italian side to win the treble, Mourinho had gained the reputation as a sure thing, with him as your manager you were guaranteed silverware. He was recruited by Real Madrid with the task of bringing them “La Decima”, their tenth European Cup.
Coming head to head both domestically and in Europe led to increased hostilities between the managers. Madrid might not have been the greater of the two sides on the pitch, losing 5 and winning 2 in their 11 meetings, but Mourinho managed to draw Guardiola, in all his turtle necked, suave civility into a street fight armed with handbags and microphones. It would get nasty.
For the first time in his career Jose was meeting resistance in the media. Barcelona fans would tag him as ‘The Translator’, a nod to his time as Bobby Robson’s interpreter. In England and Italy the press had clambered over each other for a soundbite, in Spain he was always seen as a troublemaker even by some of his own fans, a regressionist who was there to tarnish the Spanish masterpiece.
The great artist Guardiola, would further prove his talent as the first Clasico would be a 5-0 master class from Barcelona. It was never going to be easy for Jose. We now look back on that 2011 Barcelona side as arguably football’s greatest, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. If Barcelona’s strength was in their organisation, discipline and technique, then Jose would create an environment of chaos to counter.
In the space of 15 days in April of that year, Madrid and Barcelona would face each other on four occasions. The frequency and intensity of those matches would lead to breaking point and both managers would come out shaken.
The next two weeks gave us two penalties at the Bernabeu, a late Ronaldo goal in the Copa Del Rey, a Messi double in the Champions League first leg and Jose spending the second leg in the stands, forced to watch his side only manage a draw and elimination. Barcelona predictably went on to win the cup, outplaying Manchester United for a second time in a major final.
That’s how the games went, but as we’ve established by now, this was about more than 90 minutes. The ensuing back and forth between the two men would be more intense and aggressive than the Marcelo tackle that ignited the most unpleasant scene to come.
During the Copa Del Rey final an offside call against Barcelona’s Pedro Hernandez led Guardiola to criticise the referee’s judgement. Not unexpectedly, considering Jose’s opinion that the decisions had gone against his Chelsea side in the Champions League final in 2008, Jose took umbrage at this and voiced his discontent after the game.
“Up until now there was a very small group of coaches who didn’t talk about referees and a larger group who did. Now, with Pep’s comments, we have started a new era with a third group, featuring only one person, a man who criticises the referee when he makes good decisions. This is completely new to me.”
Up until now Guardiola had steered clear of Mourinho’s jibes and rose above the muck and nettles; it wasn’t to last. He said, “As Senor Mourinho has called me Pep, I’m going to call him Jose. Tomorrow at 8.45pm we will face each other on the pitch. Off the pitch he’s won. He’s been winning off the pitch all season. Let them give him a Champions League for it so he can enjoy it and take it home. In the press room he is ‘el p*** jefe’ (the fucking boss) and the one who knows more than everyone else.”
Barcelona went on to win the first leg 2-0 thanks to late goals from Lionel Messi and one of Mourinho’s men seeing red for the fifth successive time one of his sides had come up against Barcelona. The result of the match was what Barcelona fans were most concerned with, but the bout had taken something from Pep, we saw for the first time that Jose had gotten to him. The battle of attrition was starting to slide into the Real Madrid managers’ favour.
Mourinho continued his tradition of controversy in post match interviews by naming every referee selected for his previous 5 cup losses and implying that due to Barcelona’s affiliation with OXFAM they were looked upon as more saintly than others. Implying corruption and favouritism from FIFA’s top referees and disparaging one of the most successful managers in the world is something that even the boldest managers would reconsider, not Jose.
“Josep Guardiola is a fantastic coach. But I have won two Champions Leagues and he has won [only] one Champions League – and that is one that would embarrass me. I would be ashamed to have won it with the scandal of Stamford Bridge. If he wins it this year, it will be with the scandal of the Bernabeu. Deep down, if they are good people, it cannot taste right for them. I hope one day Guardiola has the chance of winning a brilliant, clean championship with no scandal.”
You have to believe that all of this anger, sensationalism and slander would not have come to the surface if Mourinho’s side had come up against Manchester United or Bayern Munich. This was Barcelona, the club who nurtured him but never viewed him as management material. This was Pep Guardiola who, almost ten years his junior, saw his path to the top of European football management a lot less rocky. This wasn’t just gamesmanship, this was personal.
It could be said that Brian Clough’s disastrous spell at Leeds was down to the fact that he allowed his personal rivalry with Don Revie to cloud his judgement and distract him from the job at hand. Was being in such close quarters with his ex employers managed by a player he helped nurture to greatness leading Jose to the same distraction?
The darkest hour was yet to come.
The Spanish Super Cup is traditionally a mellow curtain raiser for the season. An accolade and a trophy yes, but teams tend to hold something back knowing the start of the season is a week away and not wanting to risk injury. With Mourinho coming up against Guardiola again any chances of that tranquillity were slim.
The first leg ended 2-2 in the Bernabeu leaving the return leg with everything to play for and, on a summers night when the temperature was high, so were the temperaments.
The match would be tarnished by three red cards, one of which was an awful “tackle” by Real Madrid’s left back Marcelo, the Brazilian lunging in on Cesc Fabregas and hacking the Spaniard down with his trailing leg. The tackle was right on the half way line and under the noses of both benches who flooded the field in protest, leading to a mass brawl. Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil had to be physically restrained.
While football matches, especially derbies like this, have a long history of descending into chaos, this felt like the boiling over of a decade of tension between Jose and Pep. Mourinho has always been one for skirting the line between the aggressively determined and downright distasteful. In the midst of the fracas Mourinho appeared behind Guardiola’s second in command, Tito Villanova and gouged him in the eye. After the game Eladio Parames, Mourinho’s spokesman, told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo that “José will not ask for forgiveness. He firmly believes that he was defending the interests of Real Madrid”. In a shrewd display of reserve, Pep said nothing. Mourinho was showing his true colours and confident of how dark those colours were, Guardiola was happy to let him carry on.
This is the unpleasant by-product of Mourinho’s approach to management. His players’ devotion to the cause is nurtured but not tempered. The siege mentality his system utilises grows until breaking point. At Chelsea it was the disintegration of his relationship with Roman Abramovich but in Spain it was the loss of candour. For Jose, the result is of singular importance; in Spain a win at the expense of your composure is hollow. It was never going to last.
While Jose was fighting a battle on two fronts – football and mud-slinging – Guardiola was maintaining his focus on making Barcelona the supreme footballing force. He developed a style of play that had pundits in raptures. He wasn’t reinventing the game, but he had taken it to a place rarely seen before, Barcelona during this period were a delight to watch and expected to succeed in every task put in front of them. Stories of the managers’ deep understanding of tactics are plentiful and when in full flow his side were unparalleled. Steven Gerrard described the midfield triumvirate of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta as “unplayable.”
Real Madrid would lose the first Clasico of the following season 3-1, losing again a month later at home 2-1 in the Copa Del Rey first leg. Mourinho would lead Madrid to a first league title in four years but again it wasn’t just the result that mattered to the Spanish fans, Pep left Barcelona at the end of that season for a sabbatical, the ungentlemanly dogfight between himself and Jose had taken its toll on the gentle Spaniard.
Mourinho had taken a hefty swig from the poisoned chalice that is Real Madrid. Florentino Perez had dismissed the greatest managers in the world and sold some of the greatest players over the past decade. This was a club that demanded absolute perfection and a record breaking league win in a season that saw Messi and Ronaldo hit heights that will go unequalled for years to come was not enough without that elusive tenth Champions League trophy. Mourinho would follow Pep out of Spain that same season. We would have to wait 3 years for the next meeting.
After his year break, Guardiola had returned to top-flight football in charge of Bayern Munich. Jupp Heynckes had retired after winning the treble with the German side, following such a season his replacement needed to be the absolute best and Pep was among one of only two managers with the CV and the reputation for the job, the other was back at Chelsea.
In August 2013 Bayern were to face Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. If history was to be a decisive factor then Pep had the advantage, having already won the trophy twice in his time at Barcelona. Mourinho, conversely, had competed in the final on only one occasion, losing to Milan while in charge of Porto.
Goals from Torres and Ribery in the first hour left the game closely poised until a low drive from Eden Hazard in the 93rd minute was too quick for the seemingly impervious Manuel Neuer. Bayern left it late and needed a Javi Martinez goal at the death to take the game to penalties.
Yet again the managers’ influence was going to be crucial in the outcome. It was Guardiola’s turn to let the power of his words sway the tie, delivering a rousing call to arms to his players before taking their penalties. Bayern went on to win after scoring 5 out of 5.
After the match Mourinho was typically petulant when pressed about yet another loss to a Guardiola side. This was now a well-established theme, Guardiola would save his talking for his players, Mourinho would try to tangle the press with his backspeak.
In the next and probably most anticipated act in the drama, Jose and Pep will play out their conflict with the backdrop of the irrepressible English Premier League. Jose has the adoring mainstream press back in his corner and after Van Gaal the United fans see Jose as the best chance to return them to the elite.
Guardiola has the bottomless pockets of the Mansours and if he can arrange his band of mercenaries into the precision tool that he is accustomed to wielding the Citizens will be a match for anybody this season.
Mourinho 3, Guardiola 7…
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