Tuesday 16 January 2018

Seconds out: Pep v Jose - Round Two

Expect fireworks in Manchester if their rivalry of Barca-Real reignites

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will cross paths again in the dug-out in Manchester. Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will cross paths again in the dug-out in Manchester. Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

James Ducker

They were joking in Germany at the weekend that Pep Guardiola's tears stemmed not from sadness at his departure at Bayern Munich but rather despair at the news that Jose Mourinho was on the verge of being named as Manchester United's new manager.

The most damning indictment of Louis van Gaal's miserable reign at Old Trafford was that all of United's leading rivals, not least Manchester City, where Guardiola begins work on July 1, were eager for the Dutchman to remain in the post.

But Mourinho's impending appointment at United will mean, among many other things, the tantalising resumption in Manchester of a rivalry with Guardiola that, for two years in Spain, was as entertaining, explosive and ultimately toxic off the pitch as the bitter battle waged on it by their teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

With Mourinho in tow, the John McEnroe to Guardiola's Bjorn Borg if you will, perhaps this is the moment when City cease to be the "noisy neighbours" - as Alex Ferguson once derided them - and United become them.

The intensity of the rivalry took so much out of both men that it will be interesting to see if there is quite the appetite for a bloody re-match but perhaps it will prove unavoidable or, rather, the chance to antagonise Guardiola once again will be too enticing for Mourinho to resist as he bids to put United back on top - and hurt City in the process.


Perhaps United might encounter a slightly humbler Mourinho given the humiliation of how things ended at Chelsea second time round, although Marca, the Madrid sports newspaper, evidently has little expectation of a leopard changing its spots after declaring in a headline yesterday that "the disease has come to Manchester".

That City also happen to be run by two men - Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain - who were instrumental in rejecting this abrasive fire-starter in favour of Guardiola as Barca coach in 2008 is only likely to deepen Mourinho's competitive edge.

In his excellent book, Fear and Loathing In La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid, Sid Lowe wrote that Mourinho "decided that the best way to defeat Barcelona was to get under their skin, and under the skin of Guardiola in particular, to wage a war of attrition, all weapons allowed". The narrative was often characterised as purist saints (Guardiola, Lionel Messi, homespun talent and the Barcelona way) against Machiavellian forces (Mourinho, the Madrid media machine and its establishment team, Real, with their giant chequebook) which, while true to a large extent, perhaps conveniently overlooked Barcelona's tendency to mob referees and the Catalan club's own heavy investment in the transfer market.

With City looking eminently more beatable than the Barcelona team that Mourinho encountered when he rocked up at Real in May 2010, fresh from defeating Guardiola's side en route to lifting the Champions League with Inter Milan, the Portuguese might feel he does not have to play quite so dirty.

But could United versus City ever really get as ugly as Barca versus Real did, when the football was often overshadowed by fighting and faking, cheating and complaining, propaganda and politics, a far cry from those days in the late '90s when Guardiola and Mourinho were allies on the same side at Barcelona?

The nadir came in August 2011 when Mourinho poked a finger in the eye of Tito Vilanova, Guardiola's assistant, after Real defender Marcelo had sparked a mass melee with an awful challenge on Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas at the end of a Spanish Super Cup game.

But while the bad blood festered for months after that flashpoint, it had been building for some time before then, not least during the course of 18 incendiary days in April and May that year when Real and Barcelona met four times in three different competitions.

Guardiola had seldom risen to Mourinho's bait but he released a year of pent-up anger and frustration before the first leg of their Champions League semi-final at the Bernabeu. "In this (press) room, he (Mourinho) is the puto jefe, the puto amo (the f***ing boss, the f***ing master)," Guardiola snorted with derision. "I don't want to compete with him for a moment (for that title).

"I just want to recall that we were together for four years (at Barcelona). I know him and he knows me. And that's what I hold on to."

But if Mourinho had happy memories of working as an assistant to Bobby Robson and Van Gaal at Barcelona, where Guardiola was the iconic player the Portuguese always dreamt of being, he kept them well hidden.

After Real lost the first leg 2-0, Mourinho launched into a tirade that was extraordinary even by his standards, effectively accusing Uefa of fixing it so Barca could reach the final.

"One day," he said, "I would like Josep Guardiola to win this competition properly."

When Mourinho later claimed that he and Guardiola were more or less the same, it was just that the Portuguese was honest about the way he is, Guardiola responded: "I'll have to revise my behaviour then."

Indeed, despite once beating Mourinho's Real 6-2 at the Bernabeu, Guardiola claimed the malevolent side-shows that so often surrounded the Clasicos meant he struggled to recall any with particular fondness. He might end up feeling the same way about the Manchester derby in time.

Round one will be in Beijing on July 25, when United and City square up in a pre-season friendly. The mind games will probably have started well before then. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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