Saturday 16 November 2019

Tale of two opposites destined to involve postscript elsewhere

Dion Fanning

There are times when Jose Mourinho must praise himself for his restraint. These moments of prudence and self-censorship don't come along very often but when they do, he must wonder, like Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog, if they will ever be recognised.

We may be witnessing one of these times right now. Last week, Marca claimed that Mourinho will leave Real Madrid in the summer. Later, a Marca writer elaborated on the type of man who should succeed Mourinho.

"Real Madrid needs someone who can create their own style of play which differs from the rest, such as Johan Cruyff, from which Pep Guardiola took inspiration. A man who knows when someone that is not broken does not need to be fixed, like Tito Vilanova. A manager who is elegant, like Manuel Pellegrini. Someone who knows how to handle the press, like Unai Emery. A coach who will not be deterred by the highest challenge, like Vicente del Bosque."

They had one more line. "In short, anyone but Mourinho."

These are the moments when Mourinho must commend himself for his silence. When he studies these statements of ingratitude, he must feel some joy that soon they won't have Mourinho to kick around anymore. But Mourinho will keep going, keep showing up until the summer in an attempt to stop Sergio Ramos kicking people in his own box.

He was asked about the reports that he would leave and he assumed that air of impossible sadness he can do so well: this was something they should discuss with the writer of the piece, he said.

Mourinho, in fact, suggested that the journalists should take the writer out for a meal, demonstrating once again his knowledge of how journalism works, especially how journalism works when energised by the thought of a big dinner.

Meanwhile in New York, Pep Guardiola waits. Pep's aristocratic mien has been enhanced by his sabbatical which means that, for a year at least, he is one of the idle rich.

Mourinho again stays silent on this, if little else. When he considers his own relentless efforts to assert himself as the most important coach of his generation – long before it was truly established – he must wonder about a sabbatical

Mourinho works differently, he works at creating a creative tension. Where there is discord, he can bring further discord. He certainly doesn't consider a sabbatical, something he would view as he would view the talk that he should leave a legacy. They are abstractions that don't concern him.

Perhaps he has issues, he certainly has legacy issues, but they are more understandable when he's spent two years dealing with Ramos. His legacy is that he doesn't need to worry what Ramos is going to be doing in five years' time.

Mourinho has used familiar methods in Madrid. He surrounds himself with a core group of loyal players but after some time all that is left is a core, with enmities breaking out and suspicion everywhere.

Guardiola took a different approach or tended to shun the players who would force him to take that approach. Zlatan Ibrahimovic described Pep's management style as "advanced bullshit" but he warmed to Mourinho, especially after Mourinho told Zlatan's wife, "Helena, you have only one mission. Feed Zlatan, let him sleep, keep him happy."

Zlatan may have been a fault line but soon there will be many others. In 2008, Pep was appointed Barcelona's coach ahead of Mourinho. In 2008, it was the only job Guardiola would have got ahead of Mourinho.

Now the world waits for Pep and Mourinho may end up wherever Pep decides not to go. Mourinho was always abrasive, always happy to be cast as the villain but now Pep has robbed Mourinho of his hipness. Suddenly, Mourinho is Nixon to Pep's JFK. Mourinho will be seen as a man who can get things done but at a terrible cost.

Pep left Barcelona quietly and humbly but there has been chaos whenever Mourinho has left a club and there is nothing to suggest that Madrid will be any different.

Guardiola's gift at Barcelona was to understand how the team and the club would thrive and do the things that were necessary to make it so. He ended the slack culture that had invaded the club. He nurtured Messi but he also had Messi to nurture.

His next job comes with the expectation that he will create the Barcelona model without Messi, Xavi or Iniesta.

Then there is the sabbatical. Alex Ferguson writes the foreword in Guillem Balague's revealing biography of Pep. The sabbatical troubles Ferguson, as does the idea of any kind of retirement. "I know some people who have retired at 50 years old – don't ask me why!"

The idea of a career break makes no sense to Ferguson, even breaking your career in your eighth decade.

So he is bewildered by the sabbatical and he knows that the expectation won't diminish wherever Pep goes just because he had a few months off.

Ferguson may want to anoint the most coveted man in football as his successor or he may feel that Mourinho's appetite for conflict will ensure he works best at Old Trafford.

Neither Mourinho nor Guardiola is likely to be in their next job very long. In that sense, they are not so different. All that distinguishes them are their methods of renewal. Pep stepped away once he felt that the job at Barcelona was all-consuming. Now he spends his time on the Upper East Side, visiting galleries and drinking coffee. Mourinho knows that all-consuming pressure, especially as he creates much of it. Whenever he enters a period of decay, he leaves but he is immediately renewed by the next challenge.

And this is their fundamental difference – Pep worries about all the things that can go wrong while Mourinho pictures all the ways he will make things great.

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