They are rivals with different philosophies. It’s a collision that pits the pragmatist against the purist. José Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola is a rivalry that’s fascinated football enthusiasts over the years. Whatever caused such enmity between individuals so close during their time spent at Camp Nou when Pep was a player while José was assistant manager? So close were they that they celebrated the 1997 Uefa Cup Winners Cup triumph under Sir Bobby Robson together – jumping up and down like kids in a playground.
Mourinho always felt he had a point to prove to Barcelona. Even though the coaching staff and players at Camp Nou respected his work during his time there as assistant manager, he was never seen as anything more than a translator by Los Cules.
The commencement of this rivalry could be traced back to 2008 when José Mourinho felt betrayed by the appointment of Guardiola at Barcelona. He’d been vetted and was the favourite to succeed the outgoing Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard. However, Barça got cold feet and appointed their team B coach. Afterwards, José took over at Inter. The friendship was over and rivalry was birthed.
In 2010, Mourinho’s brilliant Nerazzurri side reigned supreme in the Uefa Champions League, defeating Guardiola’s all conquering Barcelona in a tempestuous semi final. They triumphed the Mourinho way, playing with grit and determination. They’d deservedly won the competition and José was off to Real Madrid that summer. The simmering contention would turn into a stormy one in the next two years.
The Madrid press were happy to have the ultimate antagonist in their ranks, doing battle with their major rivals. They’d made unsubstantiated assumptions about Barcelona before then – pointing out favourable decisions from referees, the Spanish FA & even Uefa. It was the ultimate unsettling tactic.
Joining forces with Mourinho had to be a dream come true.
Over the next two years, El Clasico, the biggest game in Spain between the country’s two most successful teams was characterised by pre-match mind games, violent behaviours, crunching tackles, unpeaceful encounters, but ultimately fiercely contested games.
In 11 Clasicos contested between both managers, Pep recorded five wins with José taking two while another four were draws. The highlight of this enthralling fixture was Barça’s 5-0 trashing of Real Madrid at Camp Nou on November 29, 2010, Mourinho’s biggest defeat till date in his managerial career. One might say Guardiola had the upper hand but Mourinho targeted and shook the foundations at Barcelona, something that had not happened since Pep took over in 2008. Mourinho aimed at destabilising Barça’s peaceful and cushioned life, ultimately knocking them off their pedestal by winning the league in 2012, Real Madrid’s first since the 2007/2008 season.
José had accomplished his mission.
The La Liga triumph by Real Madrid during the 2011/2012 season was indeed an awesome achievement. José Mourinho overcame the best side in years, a side brimming with talent and swagger. The ends justified the means, inasmuch as football purists looked down on the former Porto boss’ methods. Los Blancos haven’t won the league since then and this further highlights Mourinho’s success.
In the summer of 2012, at the end of his four years at Barcelona, Guardiola admitted that Mourinho had won the war. Perhaps he was right. Guardiola took it all personally. For Mourinho it was all part of the job.
José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are now in charge of Manchester United and Manchester City respectively and they are set to slug it out in the Manchester Derby this weekend. Though this fixture has gained more attention ever since City was taken over by billionaire Sheikh Mansour in 2008 with their spending power increasing and attracting some of the finest players in the game, to have two of the greatest managers in the game side by side on the touchline makes this officially the biggest game in England. Many have argued that this clash in the English Premier League is a more level playing field than what was witnessed in those captivating Clasicos as neither manager has the electrifying Cristiano Ronaldo or the extraterrestrial Lionel Messi.
However, both managers may feel the plot threatens to be the subplot – the rivalry trumping the game itself, all as a consequence of past events.
Notwithstanding, the latest instalment in this rivalry is being looked forward to as it graces Manchester – the confrontational vs. the respectful, the good vs. the bad. This enthralling drama pits two brilliant managers who adopt each other’s roles in contraposition to the other. The Manchester Derby has never promised this much. This is the first time a fixture will gain attention like never before. Millions will tune in to see who conquers Old Trafford. May the better man win.