First things first…
Last time they went head to head, Pep won. Hands down.
When Guardiola and Jose Mourinho were taking Clásico battles to some of the all-time red-hot temperatures of the last 80 or 90 years, the Catalan won more matches, won more trophies, scored more goals, conceded fewer and his team suffered fewer red or yellow cards.
Not unless there were points specifically awarded for being Portuguese could there have been a more clear-cut across-the-board victory.
Second things second…
Mourinho should win the title this season. No question. Pep or no Pep.
And while he’ll not be admitting that any time soon in public, I’d imagine it’s what Guardiola thinks too.
Let’s get something out of the way though.
No matter how much the Pep ‘n’ Jose show is hyped-up in the media, no matter how often the two Manchester clubs happen to be drawn together in cup competitions over and above the two already-scheduled derbies, Guardiola will never buy into the idea there was a Pep ‘n’ Jose show in Spain.
His viewpoint is that Mourinho inherited a Madrid side in 2010 which was trailing Barcelona in individual talent, in team spirit, in ‘feeling’ for the club given that Barça was packed with its youth development products – and the Portuguese embarked on a man o’ war, scorched-earth tactic to try to narrow the gap.
Narrow it he did, too. Madrid’s title win and that dramatic Copa del Rey final (Ronaldo’s header securing a 1-0 extra-time win) just before Guardiola’s team put Los Blancos out of the 2011 Champions League thanks to a 2-0 away win at the Bernabéu – those were terrific, aggressive, entertaining triumphs.
Big achievements. No question.
Two of a kind
But the antagonistic nature of the two-season contest stemmed 99 per cent from Mourinho towards Barça/Guardiola.
Let Domenic Torrent, Guardiola’s assistant from his triumphs at Barcelona and Bayern and now with him at City, explain the Catalan’s point of view:
The only time Pep altered his tone at a press conference after one of Mourinho’s declarations was in the Champions League semi final. At the end of the day it was Mourinho who tried to provoke us so you would really have to ask him if he’s going to stick to his word about it being different in England.
And to be fair to Mourinho, his tactics were about trying to win. He, and his employer Florentino Perez, found satisfaction in gently stemming Barcelona’s flat-out dominance in Spain and Europe from a torrent to a flow.
What Mourinho and Guardiola share, apart from ability, and irrespective of their radical differences, is a steely determination to win. To be first.
You’d be surprised how few of the most famous coaches/managers actually think that way.
Lots will talk a good game, many will be satisfied with aiming at European qualification, the odd cup – but very few set their entire energy and ability at openly and exclusively aiming to be the best. To win.
Not these two.
Why do I believe that, in the Premier League at least, Mourinho starts with such an advantage?
A host of reasons. On the United side: no matter how much Mourinho plays down the Van Gaal systems and the Van Gaal edicts, the fact remains that much of the tactical obedience which the Dutchman drummed into that squad will serve as an excellent bedrock for what Mourinho will require his players to do.
More, if that United squad last season can nearly claim a Champions League place and win the FA Cup at a time when the lions’ share of the playing group were either unhappy or demotivated by the rigidity and dullness of the training ground regime and playing philosophy – think what can be achieved with this raft of new energy and high quality signings?
The Special Once has ridden the course, knows where the going is good to firm, knows where it’s heavy. Will have far fewer cultural shocks awaiting him. It’s a plus point.
More still: so long as Guardiola’s team qualifies for the Champions League there’s a direct advantage/disadvantage clash right away.
United, much though they yearn for top table football and revenues, will have more time to plan, train, learn, recuperate and focus on the title.
City, a renewed group of footballers, learning many new playing rules, reacting to the intensity and the demands of a Guardiola regime will have the opposite.
Travel, pressure, tiredness, more injuries, less recuperation time, less quality time on the training pitch.
Guardiola is a leader, a coach, a man-manager whose premier skill is analyzing opponents, coming up with a clear, daring game plans and then dinning it into his own players via detailed, intense training sessions and short, inspirational videos and team talks.
That process is draining and time consuming for him.
For the record
Already he’s going to be coping with more domestic matches than for the last three seasons (the Bundesliga is a 34-game championship and Germany has no League Cup) – and there’s no ‘handy’ winter-break when minds and limbs can be refreshed and playing concepts emphasized.
City have hired Guardiola for far more than winning the title in his first season.
He’s in Manchester to squad-build, to team-build, to develop a playing style, to entertain and to develop not just a wining mentality but a winning record.
Success or failure, according to those who’ve tried to attract him for four years now, won’t be judged solely or even principally on winning the title first time out of the stalls.
Frankly, if he were to pull that off then it would be in the top two of his career achievements.
But will fans and media see it that way, see it the way Guardiola’s employers do? Probably not.
Finally though, we are talking about two fiery, proud, aggressive men working, usually, at the outer limits of energy, intensity, concentration and nerve.
Might it get personal, might they begin to snipe at each other – could it all explode into a slanging match across the tapas counter of a local Iberian restaurant? Stay tuned.
We’ll know soon.