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José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Two of the greatest tactical minds in the world today and perhaps of all time. I am certain that when the pair first met, as coach and player at FC Barcelona in 1996 they would not have expected to meet each other again. And certainly not at the top level of football management.
In this article I will review some of the key meetings and scraps between the pair over the years, and look into how they will be taking this rivalry to the greatest league competition in the world. This is my first ever article and look to do more in the near future. Any feedback is much appreciated.
The year is 2009. Pep Guardiola is the manager of his beloved FC Barcelona. The previous season had been his first in charge. The Blaugrana had won the treble. Let’s be clear, Pep had not inherited a side capable of achieving such a feat. In fact his first transfer window as first team boss had seen the departure of players such as Ronaldinho, Deco, Thuram and Zambrotta. Pep had a vision for Barça. Similar to his inspiration, his mentor, his idol. The late, great Johan Cruyff. Cruyff had taken total football to Catalonia in the 80s-90s. The 11 trophies won at the Nou Camp in this period had seen Cruyff’s dream team (with Guardiola as the midfield pivot) inspire a generation of coaches who now try and replicate the playing style seen under the Dutchman.
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Most people say that to fully understand total football, you have to have played in a total football team. It is more than a formation or a tactic, it is a mindset, a philosophy. Guardiola dragged this style into the 21st century with his famous Tiki Taka. He had the framework of Cruyff’s La Masia youth academy, the staff members and the financial backing to be a huge success. Sticking to his philosophy all the way. Cruyff’s main idea is that even though the team might lose, the crowd going home having seen exciting, attacking football is the most important thing.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have José Mourinho. Having learned from Sir Bobby Robson and Louis Van Gaal, José was able to learn tactical theory from some of the world’s best managers, and work with some of the world’s best players. Strangely enough, LVG gave Mourinho managerial and coaching experience at Barcelona. Even though the Portuguese is the last person you would expect to have gained his education at Johan’s Cathedral of football, José was given responsibility by the Iron Tulip, allowed to take charge of cup games and B Team matches. Van Gaal tutored him to be one of his own, however, the apprentice would turn to what the Cruyffians would see as the dark side.
Incredible success at FC Porto in his homeland and more trophies at Chelsea in England, the “special one” showed the world his incredible ability to manipulate the opponent. Where Pep’s strategy is to play to his team’s strengths, Mourinho is all about exploiting the other team’s weaknesses and winning at all costs, even if that means parking the bus. In 2009 he was the manager of Inter Milan. The previous season had seen the Nezzazuri lift the Serie A title, a top team was taking shape. Mourinho’s ability to get a tune out of any group of players was clear for all to see. In the period leading up to the pair’s first encounter, both had also demonstrated their ability to play games with the media. This would be another factor that would make this rivalry one of the best ever.
IMAGE FROM FOOTBALL365
2009/10 Season – Inter vs Barcelona
Mourinho’s Inter Milan side were to face Pep’s Barça twice in the 09/10 CL group stages. The first ever meeting between the two masterminds was to be held at the San Siro in Milan. An intriguing stalemate followed. 0-0 at full time, a real tactical battle, both men trying to learn about the opposition and feel each other out. The game was similar to the first round of a boxing match, however later in the the group stages, at the Nou Camp, these two heavyweights would begin to throw the first punches. The reverse fixture, saw Guardiola’s men come out 2-0 victors in a one sided affair. Mourinho’s team couldn’t handle them on the day. He was clearly keen to learn from his mistakes and try again. A sign of a great manager.
“We’re far from being Barça in terms of individual qualities and profile. As a team, Barcelona are better than us. But if I had to play against Barça again tomorrow, I would already be ready. If you told me that Inter will face Barça in the semi-final, I will accept it already.”
Mourinho was to get his wish. In the CL semifinals the same season, Inter Milan were drawn against the Blaugrana. The tie was by no doubt a huge one. The first leg saw the two sides face off at the San Siro stadium in Milan. Inter were to shock the public and pundits with a magnificent 3-1 win in front of their home crowd. Many had predicted that the Barça team’s quality would be too much for the Italians to handle. However, the scoreline said otherwise.
However, this was not to be the most intriguing leg of the tie. The following week, at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, the footballing world would experience one of the greatest ever examples of José Mourinho’s win at all costs style. Coming into the game with a 3-1 lead meant that a 1-0 loss would still see them through. And so the game began. Early in the first half disaster struck for Inter. They were reduced to 10 men. A numerical disadvantage is perhaps the worst thing that can happen when facing someone like Barcelona. Mourinho was now showing extensive animation on the touchline. Instilling mental strength and belief in his players. They defended for their lives for a majority of the match and were rewarded with just a 1-0 loss, enough to see them through to the 2009/10 CL Final. Mourinho went on to say this following the game.
“It is the most beautiful defeat of my life,” he said. “It is a style of blood not skill. We were a team of heroes. It’s a pity I could not play because I have got the same blood. I have already won a Champions League but today was even better. We made huge sacrifices.”
Mourinho’s Inter would go on to win the Champions League and match Barcelona’s 2008/09 achievement of winning a treble. At the start of the 2010/11 season the pair’s rivalry hit a whole new level, as Mourinho took one of the biggest jobs in football, at Barca’s deadly enemies, Real Madrid.
Guardiola’s Barcelona vs Mourinho’s Real Madrid – La Liga
IMAGE FROM TOTAL SPORTEK
The José vs Pep El Clasico era saw 11 meetings. 5 wins for Guardiola, 4 draws and 2 wins for Mourinho. From Mourinho’s point of view, the first meeting was the worst possible start. Arguments can be made that José was still training his side to follow his style of play. To soak up pressure and then hit the opponent with a pacey counter attack with players like Ronaldo and Di Maria. This was different to how Madrid had played before, they were used to being the dominant force.
The world’s media focused in on the Nou Camp. The biggest match of the season. With the added factor of the managers who had won the last two Champions Leagues. After all this build up, all this hype, all this expectation and the attack on the Real team bus, the game did not fail to entertain (unless you are a Madrid fan). Barça won 5-0 in front of their own crowd. Goals from Xavi, Villa (2), Pedro and Jeffren, alongside a 93rd minute red card for Ramos following numerous fights and brawls throughout the game. The following 10 El Clasico matches, putting aside the scoreline, would follow a similar pattern. Brawls and fights on and off the pitch in a show of the passion that had been drilled into the sides by the two managers.
Some pundits blamed the disastrous performance on the players losing their heads. There is clear evidence of this throughout the game. This element of passion and aggression from players like Mascherano, Busquets, Ramos and Pepe, plus the touchline antics of the two managers made these meetings some of the most memorable in history.
It would be a run of 4 meetings in just over 2 weeks in April that would see the pressure get to both managers. The pair clashed in La Liga, the Spanish cup and the CL. The first of this Clasico marathon was a meeting at the Bernabeu, a penalty for each side saw a 1-1 draw that practically assured Barcelona of the league title. Real would get their revenge just 4 days later, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored in extra time to win Real their first Copa Del Rey in 18 years. Surprisingly, after the game it would be Guardiola who would spark the first real verbal conflict between the pair, suggesting that the linesman must have had great eyesight to spot Barcelona’s Pedro was in an offside position before scoring what would have been the opening goal.
Mourinho responded, speaking before the CL semifinal first leg “Up until now there was a very small group of coaches who didn’t talk about referees and a larger group who did, now, with Pep’s comments, we have started a new era with a third group, featuring only one person, a man who criticises [the referee] when he makes good decisions. This is completely new to me.”
Guardiola hit back, in one of his most famous press conferences “As señor Mourinho has called me Pep, I’m going to call him Jose, tomorrow at 8.45pm we will face each other on the pitch. Off the pitch he’s won. He’s been winning off the pitch all season. Let them give him a Champions League for it so he can enjoy it and take it home. In the press room he is ‘el p*** jefe’ (the f*****g boss) and the one who knows more than everyone else.”
The Barcelona manager reportedly returned to the team hotel to a standing ovation from his players, who went on to win the first leg of the Champions League semi-final 2-0 at the Bernabeu with two late goals from Messi.
For the fifth game in a row (including Inter Milan) Mourinho had a player sent off against a Guardiola side. Pepe was shown a red on 61 minutes and Mourinho himself was dismissed for protesting.
After the match, he launched a shocking attack on Barcelona and the integrity of UEFA officials. “One day, I would like Josep Guardiola to win this competition properly, If I tell UEFA what I really think and feel, my career would end now. Instead I will just ask a question to which I hope one day to get a response: Why? Why Ovrebo? Why Busacca? Why De Bleeckere? Why Stark?” he continued, naming the referee who officiated Chelsea’s exit the previous season and the three referees to have taken charge of Mourinho’s most recent matches with Guardiola.
“Why? Because every semi-final the same things happen. We are talking about an absolutely fantastic football team, so why do they need that? Why? Why does a team as good as they are need something [extra] that is so obvious that everyone sees it?
I don’t know if it is the UNICEF sponsorship or if it is because they are nice guys. I don’t understand. They have power and we have no chance. All I can do is leave that question here in the air and hope that one day I will get the response. They have to get to the final, and they’ll get there, full stop.
Josep Guardiola is a fantastic coach. But I have won two Champions Leagues and he has won [only] one Champions League – and that is one that would embarrass me. I would be ashamed to have won it with the scandal of Stamford Bridge. If he wins it this year, it will be with the scandal of the Bernabeu. Deep down, if they are good people, it cannot taste right for them. I hope one day Guardiola has the chance of winning a brilliant, clean championship with no scandal.”
With Mourinho serving a touchline ban the sides drew 1-1 at the Nou Camp, sealing Barcelona’s passage to the final. “This has been one of the most beautiful nights I have ever lived,” said Guardiola, whose team would go on to beat Manchester United at Wembley.
After drawing the first leg of the following season’s Super Copa 2-2, tempers flared, Mourinho poking Pep’s assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye following a tackle from Marcelo on Fabregas. After losing the Super Copa 3-2 Mourinho could be seen making gestures towards Messi and Dani Alves, also Mourinho publicly criticised the Nou Camp ball boys. Barça defender Gerard Pique said that Mourinho was “Destroying Spanish football”
Mourinho, though, was ready for war. “I’m not going to say we’re happy because we didn’t win the Spanish Super Cup, that would be hypocritical of me. But we intended to play like men and not fall on the ground at the slightest touch. I have been taught to play like a man and not to fall first.” However, Guardiola would once again get the better of Mourinho in the first league clash of the season, pulling level with their rivals at the top of La Liga after bouncing back from the quickest-ever Clasico goal from Karim Benzema to win 3-1. A little over a month later Barcelona were victorious again at the Bernabeu, taking a 2-1 Copa del Rey first-leg lead back to the Nou Camp, where they booked a semi-final spot in the competition they’d go on to win.
Despite losing to Barça in December Real looked like a truly unstoppable force, winning 11 straight games after that Clasico loss. By the time they went to the Nou Camp in April, the title was in their hands, Ronaldo hit the decisive strike in a 2-1 success to put Real 7 points clear with 4 games remaining. It was Barcelona’s first home defeat in 55 games, Real’s first Clasico win since 2008 and their first at the Nou Camp for 5 years. “We can’t expect to always be up to the standard but it’s a pity we faltered in the decisive moment,” rued Guardiola. Mourinho declined to speak to the press.
Real went on to win all 4 remaining games to take the title for the first time in 4 years, finishing with a record 121 goals to their name and a 9 point advantage over Barcelona. As an illustration of how far clear Mourinho and Guardiola’s men were of the rest, 3rd place Valencia were 39 points off the summit.
At the end of the season Guardiola announced he was leaving Barcelona for a sabbatical. “It’s his life, but for me it’s unthinkable to take a sabbatical. He is younger than me, but I’m not tired,” was Mourinho’s farewell.
2013/14 Season – Bayern vs Chelsea – UEFA Super Cup
Guardiola and Mourinho resumed their rivalry in August 2013, when Bayern Munich and Chelsea met in the UEFA Super Cup. Neither man had won the Champions League or Europa League with those respective clubs the previous season but Guardiola, fresh from his year-long sabbatical, and Mourinho, back at the Bridge after leaving Real Madrid, both were eager to kick-off their new jobs in style. Bayern won the Super Cup on penalties, and Guardiola scored a victory over his long-time rival. “The best team clearly lost,” retorted Mourinho. “They just scored one more penalty.”
Now the rivalry is set to resume. Guardiola entrusted with state of the art facilities and a huge transfer budget to build a dynasty at Manchester City. He must try to repeat the process that Cruyff took at Barça, installing his philosophy from the youth academy to the first team. On the other side of the Manchester derby, José has taken over at United. With what may be one of the biggest budgets in world football Mourinho has the resources available to restore United’s domestic dominance. The signings of Mkhitaryan, Bailly, Ibrahimovic and the impending world record transfer of Paul Pogba have been a clear statement of intent.
With the on pitch rivalry already intensely heated, the two managers on the sidelines look certain to transform the top end of English football into a red and blue Clasico.
By Oliver Haines – @PlayedItBlind