Jose Mourinho shows rival how it’s done as Pep Guardiola lets facade slip
For the first time in his career, he is working in a league with top managers and a range of powerful clubs - and the stress is showing
Pep Guardiola's trigger point showed itself in those post-match interviews.
All you have to do to rile Manchester City's manager is tell him: "Look mate, loved your work at Barcelona, but that stuff won't work here."
Guardiola's passive-aggressive answers to the BBC, Sky and the written press questions after City's 2-1 win over Burnley on Monday revealed deep resentment at the way he is viewed in English football. Or rather, the way he thinks he is viewed.
It also broke Alex Ferguson's golden rule of never betraying vulnerability to the media.
That, though, is not his most pressing problem. Anyone with Premier League knowledge could have told him the locals would bang on about set-pieces, fixture congestion and physicality.
But his obvious fury at being lectured suggests not only a thin skin but a tendency to hide behind his artistic manifesto rather than confront the evidence.
Example: "My teams always in my career try to play football. I cannot control the other circumstances."
This will not pass unchallenged. City are not the only team in England who "try to play football". Chelsea have been symphonic at times in constructing their recent run of 13 wins. Liverpool's attacking is fluid and exciting. Arsenal are hardly cavemen, either.
No wonder there is chafing against this notion of Guardiola as missionary, moving among lesser men and asking a whole league to bend to his ways.
The "evidence" referred to above starts with seven red cards in 30 games, including three for Fernandinho, a fine player with a self-control deficit that Guardiola appears unwilling or unable to correct.
The same can be said for Sergio Aguero, who may be acting out his own resentment at Guardiola's efforts to change him into a hyper-active 'presser' when he was doing just fine as a deadly finisher.
In those awkward TV exchanges, City's manager drew attention to a supposedly unpunished foul on his goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, while dismissing questions about Fernandinho's culpability for a dangerous scissor tackle.
"OK, so I have to adapt and I have to understand there are special rules here in England," Guardiola said, in defence of a ball-playing goalkeeper who exemplifies his manager's belief that change can be forced from the top down.
Bravo, a good shot-stopper, has been thrown into a role for which there was no precedent in the English game. But rather than accept the need to refine his own ideas, Guardiola shifts ever closer to a persecution complex. Some of this is understandable culture shock, and possibly fatigue from an insane Christmas and New Year schedule, which was new to him.
Only a smattering of foreign managers have found adaptation to the English culture easy (Chelsea's Antonio Conte appears be one).
And Guardiola reversed the normal ladder-climbing process by starting at the top, with the nirvana of a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona side, and then moved on to a formidable Bayern Munich team, who he encouraged to play faster and press more zealously.
At a push, you could say Guardiola is only now serving his apprenticeship, in his third job.
For the first time he is surrounded by a swarm of powerful clubs, and top-class managers.
For the first time he is working in a league where passing and possession are not the absolute religion, and which demands a range of different skills from the coach.
All this is familiar to Guardiola's bete noire, who happens to be working on the other side of town, and is gaining the upper hand in their personal struggle.
Jose Mourinho's early-season moroseness was surely aimed at a Manchester United squad who had lost their drive and sense of personal responsibility over three years stretching back to David Moyes. There was a malaise.
Yet Mourinho is now winning that internal battle, with an unbeaten 11-match run and six wins in a row. United are playing with purpose again.
The City team, you could argue, were not set up to play the way Guardiola wants them to play. They tried it for the first two months of the season but it fizzled out in October.
City were constructed to be a Premier League title-winning team with a large measure of class on top (David Silva, Aguero). Guardiola's rapid ice hockey-style often looks alien to a team who are accustomed to crushing opponents in a slower, more traditional manner.
Over in Liverpool, meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp can impose the high-intensity principle more readily on less famous players who have no recent winning tradition to point to in their defence. Klopp can also be spiky and indignant, but he often draws back from it afterwards, as if to avoid any damage and distractions.
Always in the background at the Etihad, though, was the grand project: the Barcelona-isation of Britain's richest club. To make them attractive around the world there had to be a beacon idea, and Guardiola was the visionary who would make it happen.
He may still be, but telling America's NBC, "I am arriving at the end of my coaching career, of this I am sure", and then treating routine questions as provocations hardly inspires confidence in his willingness to do the hard yards to be a winner at City. It indicates instead a "take it or leave it" mindset.
Put it this way: did Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, United and Spurs enjoy Guardiola's interviews after the Burnley game? You bet they did. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.