Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are two sides of the same coin and their inconsistent seasons prove it

This season, one defined by inconsistency and underachievement for both Manchester clubs, has demonstrated how much the two men actually have in common

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If Jose Mourinho seemed to be frustrated in his media appearances after Manchester United’s dismal 0-0 home draw with West Brom, some behind the scenes say it was nothing compared to what he was like in private. The Portuguese was highly irritated, most of all with the team’s on-going inability to finish chances, and it is understood he has now instructed the club hierarchy to go all out for Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann no matter how complicated it is.

Pep Guardiola wasn’t overtly angry after Manchester City’s own draw at Arsenal, but the general sentiment around his club has been the same: that they need to buy to fix things. The Catalan is known to have been struck by how deficient in tactical understanding a lot of his squad are in contrast to his Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams, and wants to bring in more suitable players.

So, the response from two of the game’s most successful ever managers on suffering rare under-performance at two of the most over-spending clubs in the game is pretty much the same: to spend a bit more.

That is a superficial comparison and the contexts of the situations obviously have to be taken into account, but it does neatly fit with something that has become increasingly apparent this season as Mourinho and Guardiola have worked in the same city: they are much more alike than has often been considered. Some of those who know them from their time together at Barcelona, from 1996 to 2000, even believe that they have similar tactical roots in terms of their ideological approach to the game and how they view space on a pitch. They may have embarked on different interpretations, but the notion remains that they are just two sides of the same coin.

Even those contrasts between their playing philosophy and personality feed into this. Guardiola evangelises the most extroverted football possible, basing his game on high pressing and high command of the ball, but comes across as more personally introspective, as if always so deeply thinking about the game and how he can reach his ideal. Mourinho has always been the ultra-pragmatist, but his scorpion-and-the-frog natural response to difficulty on the pitch is usually to go as deep as possible and shut everything down in self-protection before then going on the front foot in the media afterwards. 

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The 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Chelsea was a case study in this, but it is so pointed in general how the two have reacted to similar challenges and the taxing questions that follow. Whereas Mourinho came across as so unnecessarily aggressive in his flash interview with the BBC on Saturday, one of Guardiola’s most notorious media exchanges of the season saw him express some extreme passive-aggressiveness after the 2-1 win over Burnley.

Both have come across so conspicuously abrasive when questioned, and it certainly smashes a few perceptions about Guardiola’s supposedly more urbane persona from when he was winning everything at Barcelona, as Mourinho got involved in a series of battles while at Real Madrid. That, of course, also reflects the fact that it’s a lot easier to be charming when you’re winning, and England so far hasn’t seen some of the regular flashpoints that Antonio Conte got into in Italy - precisely because Chelsea have been performing so well.

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Guardiola and Mourinho share a joke before the fourth-round EFL Cup encounter between City and United last October (Getty)

It probably says something about modern top-level management, too. To be capable of winning to that degree, it undeniably helps to be an intensely involved obsessive who rages against imperfection. You could even argue it’s one reason why the comparatively more relaxed Carlo Ancelotti has not won that many league titles.

Right now, despite all of that, both Mourinho and Guardiola look some way off winning the league title themselves. United struggle to score when really required, City struggle to defend when really required, again touching on those contrasts.

They now need to respond with more than just difficult interviews, and appeals to their players to do the same things but better. It could reasonably be asked of Mourinho, for example, what he is doing on the training ground to try and improve the scoring rate of his side. Why is it that vibrant young attackers like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have apparently regressed under him?

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City emerged triumphant in the first Premier League meeting between the two men (Getty)

It could reasonably be asked of Guardiola, meanwhile, why he can’t just make some temporary compromises to this constant pursuit of a football ideal. Because, when it’s not working at 100 per cent, City can often look remarkably and disproportionately fragile.

This is not to say there haven’t been elements to admire about their seasons. Mourinho could yet win two trophies and get back into the Champions League, while some of City’s football has been genuinely sublime, and often the most impressive in the Premier League for the slick choreography of their movement.

The bottom line, though, is that much more should fairly have been expected of both managers. It is underperformance to not challenge for the title. Going into the season, they had the resources, the squads, the aura and managerial talent to do exactly that. The debates about the quality of the personnel have only come later, along with those questions they have reacted with such hostility to.

Either way, both need to show exactly why they are rightfully worth so much as managers, rather than why their signings should be. Don’t get angry. Get even better.

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