Jose Mourinho to Manchester United: Round one was fiery, now prepare for resumed hostilities Pep Guardiola

The two former friends made the first act fascinating in Spain. The next one promises to be just as interesting 

Pete Jenson
Madrid
Tuesday 24 May 2016 10:32
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Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and Real's Jose Mourinho shake hands during their at times bitter rivalry in Spain
Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and Real's Jose Mourinho shake hands during their at times bitter rivalry in Spain

Not every image of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola has them at loggerheads on the touchline of the Camp Nou or the Santiago Bernabeu. One well-worn photo has the two men sat side by side in their Barcelona training tops circa 1997 and tells a very different story.

Pep was still the hearbeat of Barça’s midfield and Jose was assistant to Bobby Robson and then to Louis van Gaal back then. They look close in the photograph and they were. Mourinho was popular with the players: he was charming, he didn’t take himself too seriously, he evidently had a fine football brain – qualities appreciated by Guardiola.

The fondness was mutual, not for nothing did Mourinho want Guardiola as his No 2 when he auditioned for the Barcelona job with a Powerpoint presentation to the club's directors Tkiki Begiristain and Marc Ingla in 2008.

The two men won trophies together, and when they beat Paris Saint Germain in Rotterdam in the 1997 Cup Winners Cup final they embraced on the pitch, jumping up and down in jubilation, a moment that Mourinho would remember years later once installed as Real Madrid manager in the opposite corner to Pep. "I still have a photo of that embrace," he told Spanish television station Cadena Ser. "We were close."

The closeness was another reason it hurt Guardiola all the more when things turned as ugly as they did during their two seasons spent as Barcelona and Real Madrid managers.

That’s why when ahead of the first leg of Real Madrid and Barcelona's Champions League semi-final in 2011 Pep ranted: "In the press room, he is the f****** boss, the one who knows more than anyone else," he also said: "I just want to remember that we were together for four years. He knows me and I know him."

Mourinho had started that particular row sarcastically suggesting that Guardiola was breaking new ground by criticising referees even when they were right.

Mourinho's comments came in the middle of a five-game period of Clasico meetings in the cup, league and Champions League. The Barcelona players had been watching Mourinho's press conference in their Madrid team hotel. The television had been turned up. And their manager had been pushed over the edge.

Guardiola responded in that 45-minute press conference rant but he had also wanted to remind Mourinho of how close the two had been. Speaking about the Madrid press that he believed had fed the fire of the pair’s feud he added: "If he wants to pay more attention to them than to the friendship, well maybe not friendship but relationship that we had then he is perfectly within his rights to do that." As well as being furious at the smear on Barcelona’s ability to win without help from referees or lose without blaming them, he felt he was being slighted by, if not an old friend, then certainly a fondly-remembered acquaintance.

With his going to war hat on Mourinho had little time for nostalgia. Pep was beating him on a regular basis and has done so consistently since the two stopped working together at Barcelona.

Not only did Guardiola dominate Mourinho’s Madrid having been given the Barça job ahead of him but he was also offered the Chelsea job ahead of Mourinho who only then landed it because Pep said no. Even the United job has come Mourinho’s way after United failed to do what most of their supporters were urging them to do and go all out to get Guardiola.

What remains to be seen now is to what extent the pair resume hostilities. Meetings have been few and far between since Guardiola left Barcelona. The two met at the Nyon managers' forum in 2014 and there was a polite greeting and then a respectful distance maintained.

When Guardiola left Barça it was not the case that Mourinho had pushed him out. He left drained by the strain of managing one of the most political clubs in football. But the at-times poisonous atmosphere that polluted the Clasicos had added to the sense that he was better out of it, so Mourinho had been a key contriubutory factor.

Their relationship will not be the same in England. Manchester City's rivalry with United cannot compare with Barcelona's with Real Madrid. There are no political overtones and no matter how incendiary their rematch, there will be other battles to be fought.

Mourinho will not be able to make Guardiola his sole focus. After all it is with Arsene Wenger that he has the worst relationship. It's the French manager whose name place-card he will swap with another manager's if he finds himself sat next to him at one of Sir Alex Ferguson's Elite Club Coaches Forums. And he will also be taking on Antonio Conte at his former club and possibly Manuel Pellegrini at Everton.

The old enmity will not resurface with the same intensity. Neither will the even older friendship make a comeback. Who knows they might even share a post-match glass of wine. If they do Guardiola will probably still make sure Mourinho drinks from his cup first … just in case.

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