Pep Guardiola v Jose Mourinho II promises to be as compelling as any great sequel
Successes and failures: Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have not been brought to Manchester to boost the Premier League's box office appeal, even if the presence of modern football's two greatest coaching masterminds - the friends who became foes - holds an attraction far beyond what happens on the pitch.
They are there because they are serial winners, entrusted to revive the flagging fortunes of Manchester United and Manchester City, and while they have very different theories on how success should be achieved, the pair are united by a fierce will to win and an acceptance that both may have just taken on their biggest challenges yet.
Mourinho must make sense of the muddle left by his old boss, Louis van Gaal, in Old Trafford's distressed post-Sir Alex Ferguson landscape, Guardiola drag City out of their curious slumber, make them more, not less, than the sum of their expensive parts and, in the process, elevate a club with an ingrained inferiority complex to the next level.
Tomorrow's meeting in Beijing is merely the first battle in a wider war.
Mourinho is coming off the back of easily the biggest failure of his career, sacked by Chelsea last December with the club in 16th in the Premier League. Guardiola will be working with players less gilded than the groups he had at Barcelona and Bayern Munich in a league that offers a level of competition far removed from the two-horse races he encountered in La Liga and the Bundesliga.
In that sense, Mourinho believes Guardiola's achievements at Barcelona and Bayern, where he won a total of 21 trophies including six titles and two Champions Leagues in seven years, do not compare as favourably to his own haul of 22 trophies over a 13-year period with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and, of course, Real Madrid, where his rivalry with the Catalan turned toxic. In Mourinho's eyes, Guardiola took the safe option by moving from Catalonia to Bavaria in 2013 after a 12-month sabbatical.
"I could choose another club in another country where to be champions is easier," Mourinho said last year. "I took a risk. Maybe in the future I have to be smarter and go to a country where a kitman can be coach and win the title." Mourinho did not name Guardiola but it was obvious who he was addressing.
Guardiola's crowning glory probably remains Barcelona's spellbinding destruction of Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final.
Mourinho's tour de force involved eliminating Guardiola's Barca in the Champions League semi-finals with Inter the previous year, despite playing more than an hour of the second leg at the Nou Camp with 10 men, en route to winning the trophy for a second time and completing a treble for the Italian club in the process.
Guardiola has won seven of his 16 meetings overall with Mourinho, including a 5-0 thumping in the Portuguese's first Clasico in November 2010. But Mourinho achieved with Real what many thought impossible by beating Guardiola's Barcelona - arguably the greatest club side ever assembled - to the Spanish league title in 2011-12.
Man-management, tactics and playing style
Pragmatist versus purist is the default setting for any discussion of Mourinho and Guardiola's footballing philosophies. It is not quite as simple as that but their sharp deviation in outlook is all the more fascinating given their shared coaching origins at Barcelona, where Mourinho was an assistant coach in the late 1990s while Guardiola was still playing but destined for a career in management.
Whereas Guardiola has remained a devoted disciple of the late Johan Cruyff and his Barcajax [Barcelona/Ajax] school of thinking, Mourinho rebelled against and ultimately rejected the possession-based model. "The more the ball circulates in midfield," Mourinho once said, "the more likely it is that the other team will dispossess us."
Some have wondered whether Mourinho, after losing out to Guardiola for the Barcelona job in 2008, began to define himself in opposition to Barca with a style of football far removed from tiki-taka. According to Diego Torres in his controversial biography of Mourinho, the Portuguese has a seven-point plan for winning big games, including a belief that "whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake" and "whoever has the ball has fear".
Inter's aforementioned triumph over Barcelona had come despite Mourinho's side having just 19 per cent of the ball in the second leg. Yet allegations that Mourinho's methods are incompatible with the attacking, expansive football he is expected to serve up at Old Trafford are invariably undermined by the statistics. In three years in Spain his Real team twice outscored Barca. In a dozen seasons at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real his sides were leading scorers on seven occasions and figured outside the top two in the goal-for column just once.
A strong advocate of counter-attacking ("if you don't play it, you're stupid," he has said), speed on the transition is a Mourinho doctrine.
Ferguson would often talk about Chelsea's "relentless efficiency".
Guardiola, by contrast, evolved the core concepts of "Total Football" and ball domination to the point of seldom seen beautification. Winning alone is not enough, it has to be done in style. "His philosophy is clear: first we should have the ball, with it the opponent suffers and we have everything under control," Victor Valdes, his former goalkeeper at Barcelona, explained. "Secondly, we try not to lose the ball in compromising positions since it could cause a dangerous situation. The third aspect is the pressure in the rival's half. We must bite, be very intense."
It has not always worked. After Bayern's 5-0 aggregate Champions League semi-final defeat by Real in 2014, the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, criticised Guardiola's "paralysing greed for possession." But, like Mourinho, Guardiola inspires fierce loyalty in his players, albeit with a less confrontational approach than his rival. "He makes us understand football," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. "He doesn't just give us orders, he also explains why." Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who branded Guardiola a "spineless coward", recognised he was a "fantastic coach", despite the natural gravitation of the Swede - now at United - towards Mourinho, "the masterbrain".
Power struggles, rows and controversies
There are few more divisive figures in football than Mourinho. His rap sheet is deplorable, from sticking a finger in the eye of Tito Vilanova, Guardiola's assistant, at the end of a Spanish Super Cup game to being branded an "enemy of football" by Uefa after scandalous criticism of referee Anders Frisk when Chelsea manager and subsequent claims as Real coach that Uefa effectively fixed it for Barcelona to reach the 2011 Champions League final. Last month, a settlement was reached in the sex discrimination case brought against Mourinho by Eva Carneiro, the former Chelsea doctor he was accused of calling a "daughter of a whore".
"I do not like watching myself do some things, my wife is very critical, she really does not like who I am as a coach," Mourinho has said in the past.
The Portuguese is often characterised as the sinner to Guardiola's saint.
But while Guardiola once scoffed at Mourinho's assertion that the pair are more or less the same, it was just that Mourinho was honest about the way he is - "I'll have to revise my behaviour then," Guardiola countered - the new City manager can be a handful himself.
While Guardiola's dispute with highly respected and influential Bayern doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt did not plumb the ugly depths of Mourinho's fallout with Carneiro, it did highlight the Spaniard's ruthless, demanding and selfish streak. Muller-Wohlfahrt quit after he and the club's medical department were allegedly blamed for Bayern's 3-1 Champions League quarter-final, first-leg defeat to Porto last year.
"It's not all sweetness and roses with Pep," one source who knows him well said. "He is very controlling in his own way, he wants what he wants."
For all the plaudits lavished on Guardiola's Barcelona side, the tendency of his players to mob referees was unedifying. Guardiola once branded Mourinho the "f***ing boss" of the press room, "the f***ing master" of the media mind games after releasing a year of pent-up frustration at his rival's persistent carps and taunts. As other usually mild-mannered figures, from Arsene Wenger to Manuel Pellegrini, will attest, Mourinho is capable of ruffling just about anyone's feathers. Whether he routinely revisits such psychological strategies in Manchester remains to be seen but Guardiola v Mourinho II promises to be a must-see sequel.