Saturday, August 31, 2013

Chelsea v Bayern: Why Guardiola gets under Mourinho's skin

Morinho vs. Guardiola
If there is one person in football that gets under Jose Mourinho's skin like no other, it's Pep Guardiola. Much has been written about how the Portuguese coach chipped away at the Barcelona manager in recent years, but it works in reverse, too. We only had to wait minutes into Mourinho's pre-Super Cup press conference yesterday for evidence, with the Chelsea manager berating a journalist for daring to suggest that he struggles to beat Guardiola's teams. The journalist was wrong, he insisted.

In reality, he was right. Seven wins, five draws and three losses. There stands Guardiola's record against Mourinho. He knows that, of course. A coach as meticulous as Mourinho will not be unaware of his record against a major rival, especially if that rival is Guardiola. Because Guardiola is a rival like no other.

Their relationship is one that spans decades, and has twisted and turned in different directions as the years roll on. A timely dip back into history by Twitter user Futbolero a few months ago revealed just how highly Mou rated Pep as a player when they worked together at Barcelona:

“With the ball, Guardiola is incredible, one of the best in the world. There is something fundamental: Pep always wants, and always knows what he wants”. So said Mourinho to Mundo Deportivo in 1996. The unnamed 'thing' that Pep wants is presumed to be the ball, an obsession that has continued long into Guardiola's coaching career. But that's not all. In the same piece, Mourinho goes on to make a revelation that is striking in hindsight:

“I'm an admirer of [Johan] Cruyff”.

These days it's hard to see how Jose Mourinho, the man (rightly or wrongly) said to define 'anti-football', could be a self-confessed admirer of Johan Cruyff. But there it is, straight from the horse's mouth. That, in itself, further explains why Guardiola has proven to be such an irritant for Mourinho in recent years. Because Pep took the job Mourinho wanted more than any other. The job at the club that Cruyff built.

Thanks to Graham Hunter's exceptional book, Barça, it is now well documented that Jose Mourinho was being interviewed for the Barcelona position in early 2008. While, in the end, he didn't get the gig, the stumbling block was never his style of football. Then director of football Txiki Begiristain was more than convinced that Mourinho could adapt his football to Barcelona. Considering he was an admirer of Cruyff's philosophy in his early days as a coach, that's no surprise. Our formative years shape our later thinking, after all.

But of course, Mourinho didn't pass the final test. Guardiola did. Dreams of returning as Barcelona's triumphant 'home-grown' coach were dashed for the Portuguese. Any opportunity to show the world that he could play possession-based football just as well as anybody else was denied, too. Instead, Mourinho was forced to stand back and watch as the club where he had learned his trade flourished under one of the players he had been dealing out orders to only a decade earlier. That must have hurt. 'Today, tomorrow, and forever, with Barcelona in my heart', Mourinho told onlookers gathered at Plaça Sant Jaume in 1997. Forever lasted until 2008, when Barcelona broke his heart and ensured that Guardiola stayed at the forefront of his mind.

The fallout that ensued, first between Pep's Barcelona and Mourinho's Inter, then his Madrid, is common knowledge. Mourinho won his second Champions League at Barcelona's expense, but that pleasure didn't last long, with Guardiola adding his own second European Cup as a coach only a year later, eliminating Mou's Madrid in the process.

Even when Guardiola left Barcelona in 2012, Mourinho couldn't escape his shadow. As some of football's biggest jobs became available, Pep's name was omnipresent at the top of the list, with Mourinho lagging behind. In a way it was understandable; Mou's Madrid were beginning to fall apart, with internal turmoil caused by his 'with me or against me' mentality seeping into their performances. It was a reminder of his scorched earth policy that is believed to have proven dissuasive for some of the clubs considering him as their next manager. Some clubs didn't even consider him at all, if you believe Uli Hoeness. "Guardiola and Mourinho had an interesting battle in Spain over some seasons," he recently noted, "but our coach left his adversary miles behind." Hoeness would say that, of course, but in terms of not only the trophies won, but the image he left behind to his potential employers, Guardiola did come off the better of the two.

And so, sooner than we may have expected, here we are. Chelsea against Bayern. The teams have changed, but it's still Mourinho against Guardiola, a one-off opportunity to remind the world of just who the special one really is, and at the expense of the man that has stolen much of his thunder. Mourinho may be keen to play down the importance of his rivalry with the Catalan, but make no mistake about it, this game is more than just a meeting of two of Europe's elite. It's personal.
TalkSport