We're already looking past this weekend's derby at the possibility of what next season could bring
The world is drooling. Perhaps prematurely.
For all the importance of Manchester City v Manchester United this weekend everyone seems to want it to be Pep v Mourinho already. Whether that is guaranteed to be the case next season splits opinion.
Mourinho’s been ‘announced’ as United’s next manager by an Italian journalist and the best friend of the gardener of the sister of the Inter Milan owner… or something like that. So, nuff said. Right? And it goes without saying he yearns for this job. Even though you’ll catch United players, past and present, reckoning Ryan Giggs remains Sir Alex Ferguson’s firmly preferred choice to take over in the summer.
But the ‘pleeease make it Pep v Mourinho!’ snowball of opinion is reaching critical mass. And that’s an interesting comment on precisely what kind of entertainment the Premier League is now expected to provide by a wide number of its clients and fans.
The football ‘show’ is becoming more important than the football ‘give ’n go’. Guardiola has been a pretty much unchecked success since he took over at Barcelona in 2008 – elbowing Mourinho out of the job he so coveted, thus putting a nasty edge into what would follow. City hiring him, particularly while United dozed off on that opportunity, is a coup. No question.
Much Mour To Offer?
But Mourinho? In the face of competition from Slaven Bilic, Mauricio Pochettino, Maxi Allegri, Unai Emery [Claudio Ranieri even] is he a coup? Does he even profile as the right choice? That’s a different argument.
When the job came up after Fergie left, either Mourinho didn’t want it or wasn’t wanted. What’s changed for the better in his portfolio since then? In fact his stock has decreased in value.
If he could guarantee his early excellence at Chelsea, his brilliant second season at Inter his impressive second season at Madrid – fine. Shoo-in. It’s the Special One/Special Once debate. But it’s no longer simply clever word-play. No-one, at all, doubts his talent. Just whether hiring him remains a net gain or a net drain.
When the current Manchester City hierarchy, Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, opted not to appoint the Portuguese at the Camp Nou in 2008, despite interviewing him, it was because they didn’t like the ‘Man o War’ part of the package.
‘I won’t change’ he told Barcelona. ‘We don’t want to spend our lives putting out fires’ they told him. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. They chose Guardiola and, hey presto, the only flames were of ardour and admiration as the world was wowed by Barça.
So, back to the ‘please let it be Jose v Pep’ rising tide of sentiment in the UK. It’s another version of Nicklaus v Palmer, Ali v Foreman, Coe v Ovett, Conners v McEnroe – Keane v Mick McCarthy [and the rest of the world].
We like our sporting contests but they’re moreish, more devourable, with a splash of Tabasco. Everyone respects the hypnotic power of a feud. And many of us like to sit by the side of the guillotine and knit – watch the once great being cut down to size.
Don’t just give us a tussle. Make it personal.
Since they began going head-to-head Pep and Jose have let their animosity hang out. Mourinho reckoned Guardiola was in a tiny group of coaches who criticise a referee for ‘getting it right’ – Guardiola conceded that Mourinho was the ‘fucking boss’ as far as the media wars were concerned but pointed out he was perfectly content to win trophies and watch the world fall in love with his brand of football.
‘On the pitch I watch and try to learn from him… but I don’t want to learn anything from him off the pitch’.
Mourinho reckoned he’s be ashamed to have won the Champions League the way Guardiola did in 2009. But he should have been much more ashamed of his cowardly act in sneaking around the back of a ruck and poking his finger into the eye of the late Tito Vilanova during a Camp Nou Clásico.
The last time they clashed, in the 2013 European Supercup, Pep limited himself to:
‘Same old Mourinho, we know what he’s like… he can say what he wants.’
While the Portuguese reckoned:
‘There must be an unwritten law that when I face a Guardiola team I always get a guy sent off.’
Yeah Jose baby, there may be another explanation. No, in fact – there is.
So, since 2008, who won the battle of the headlines, the insults and the testosterone? You call that one. But stats tell the proper tale of who won on the pitch. Pep. Hands down. They’ve met as coaches 16 times spread across Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. The Catalan’s teams have lost just three times.
However it’s not all on the page. Or in the silverware. Big clubs need to think not just about today, or next week but two three four five years forward. It’s not a choice, it’s an obligation of greatness.
What legacy did Pep leave behind at Barcelona … well, look. They’ve won at least one trophy every year since he left in 2012 – seven in total. Most of his pupils continue to thrive.
What Mourinho leaves behind… well anyone who says ‘a whiff of sulphur’ must be referring to the fact that adding sulphur to electrical cells can quintuple their performance. Hope that’s clear.
If this fixture is run by these two antagonists next season there’ll be all the fun of the fair – sleight of hand, clownish behaviour, noise, a real Barnum and Bailey effect. It’ll be a hot-ticket item.
Whether it’ll be healthy and nourishing for the two clubs, the Premier League, the players – that might prove to be another matter.