The Premier League has suddenly become a very crowded arena. Gone are the days of the assured big top four. Gigantic foreign investment no longer provides guaranteed success. Even the little clubs can now compete for the coveted top prizes.
Liverpool played their hand early and chose a sought-after young manager to take the Anfield helm midway through last season. Chelsea always ‘go big’ when it comes to managers. The case was no different this year, appointing Antonio Conte the former Juventus and current Italy coach towards the end of last season. Arsène Wenger remains stubborn as ever with his tactics and policies and even more so with his staying power. There’s even the young emerging coaches who impressed so much last season and who have closed the gap at the top: messrs Pochetino, Bilić and Koeman.
And then there is the Manchester clubs. An already fierce local rivalry was magnified to a global level following City’s 2008 Arab investment. Both had mixed seasons this year however. City marginally clinched Champions League qualification and made it to the semi-final of the competition – however, was seen as a failure considering the club’s ambition. Similarly for United, despite winning the FA Cup, they placed 5th in the Premier League, which has to be seen as a disappointment considering the club’s expenditure on players in the past two seasons and its global status.
City, already disappointed with their league form made their move in late January and was announced the departing Bayern Munich manager and former Barcelona captain and manager Pep Guardiola would succeed Pelegrini next season.
Guardiola’s fierce rival at Barcelona, José Mourinho was surprisingly relieved of his duties as Chelsea coach midway through last season following the club’s unbelievable fall from league champions to relegation candidates. Whilst Manchester United’s results were far from that level, the club and fans alike had made it clear they were unhappy with Louis Van Gaal’s rein at the club. The day after winning the FA Cup, the club sacked him just two years into his three-year contract. It was then speculated the recently departed Chelsea man, former Porto, Inter and Real Madrid manager and the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ would forget his apparent blue allegiance and take over the Red Devils. On Friday 27th May the speculation was proven correct, as the club announced José Mourinho had signed a three-year deal at the club.
It’s almost as if this had to be the way. As soon as City confirmed Guardiola, United needed to trump them, to remind them who the true Manchester club really is and who are the ‘noisy neighbours’. José Mourinho: a United decision almost seemingly driven by personality and status rather than football. City get Guardiola, who better for United than his archenemy? City get the best manager in the world, United (deep cinematic trailer voice) have to get the only man who has ever been able to stop him.
Towards the end of his tenure at Chelsea, he bemoaned a campaign against his club – even going as far as complaining that there were no pundits on British television with a Chelsea allegiance. The difference between the Chelsea and Madrid Mourinho was at Chelsea he didn’t have a direct adversary. Therefore, Mourinho’s ever-increasing and ludicrous complaints began to look like the ramblings of a mad-man. Whereas, at Real Madrid he had a direct foe; an opponent for Mourinho to direct his conflict towards and rally his players, the fans, and media against.
Back in 2010 Mourinho went about waging war on and off the pitch in his attempt to bring Real Madrid back to the very top of Spanish football. The direct rivalry between the two Spanish giants had always been there. However, if Mourinho was to truly separate them he had to make it personal. He had to forge a rivalry between each club, between each manager and between each player. Firstly he sought to break up the flourishing personal relationships between the golden-generation of players who had just won back-to-back European and World championships. The easiest tact would be the geographical-political debate: the Barcelona players were Catalan; they hated Spain and therefore, would never truly see themselves as colleagues with the Madrid Spanish contingent.
Just like at Chelsea five years later, there was a campaign against his club. He projected himself and the giant owners of the Galacitcos as the powerless victims. Referees and the league were against Madrid, whilst Barcelona were given favourable fixtures and teams did not bother trying against them. In short: everything was a big controversy and Mourinho was the only one who could see it.
He relentlessly attacked Barcelona. He couldn’t stand their elevation to glory and the image that they were the good guys. Barcelona based their team on academy graduates all brought up playing the Barcelona-style of football. Barcelona projected themselves as ‘football first’. Whereas Real Madrid would cherry-pick their stars from around the world in the hope that sale of shirts would come hand-in-hand with footballing success.
Mourinho attacked their blamelessness. He accused their players of cheating, pressuring officials and using their image to their advantage. He would insist that himself and Guardiola were truly not so different and that his opponent simply went about his business differently – urging him almost like they were facing each other head-to-head at a title weigh-in to punch him, just so he could turn to the crowd and say “look, he hit me!”
Most famously, during a not so infrequent fracas on the touchline during a match, Mourinho poked the then Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye. In the post-match conference when questioned about the incident he claimed not to know who, “this ‘Pito Vilanova’ or whatever his name is.” Mourinho’s attention to detail is flawless. He knows everything there is to know about the opposition players as well as the staff. He knew he poked the eye of Vito just as well as he knew Pito is colloquial in Spanish for ‘penis’.
Whilst Mourinho did what he does best, Guardiola and Barcelona went about their business quietly and efficiently. Guardiola rarely succumb to Mourinho’s taunts and accusations, but did his talking on the pitch. Guardiola and Mourinho faced each other 15 times with the former coming out on top 7 and losing just 3. Famously Guardiola’s Barcelona beat Mourinho’s Real Madrid 5-0 in 2010 and also knocked Madrid out of the Champions League beating them 2-0 at the Bernabéu.
Only once during the Spanish rivalry did the media see Guardiola seemingly give in to Mourinho’s jibes and press-room tactics. Prior to the aforementioned Champions League second-leg in the Bernabéu he sat down for his pre-match conference and launched a long, well-planned monologue aimed at Mourinho and settled some scores following a Mourinho rant a few days previous about Guardiola comments made following controversy in the Copa Del Ray final. Guardiola finalised his press-room rant with, “In this room, he is the puto jefe, the puto amo – the fucking boss, the fucking master, and I don’t want to compete with him for a moment.”
Guardiola left his post as manager of Barcelona at the end of the following season after admitting he’d lost motivation – perhaps tired of the heated rivalry. Without Guardiola there and his successor (Vilanova) less than interested in Mourinho, it was as if Mourinho lost his vigor and fight for the cause. After three seasons he ended up fighting with his own staff, his own players and finished the season empty-handed – sound familiar Chelsea fans?
However, having been over four years now – it feels like the world is recharged and ready for the two to take up their battle again in an even more intense environment. They will now compete in the most competitive and most scrutinised league in the world, in one city, and with two teams who’s recent footballing successes have been far more limited than Barcelona and Real Madrid’s when their helms were respectively taken up.
Whether or not Guardiola and Mourinho initially rise to the media-touted renewed rivalry doesn’t matter. What matters is the fascinating season that awaits us as their two styles of actual football go head-to-head again. The big teams have reacted, partly to each other but also to the necessities of the failures of last season. Each club needs an element of rebuilding; however, also demand results and success. Therefore, the emergence of these superstar managers in the Premier League can only catalyse what is already the most entertaining and competitive league in the world.
Comment below with your opinions on the renewed rivalry of Guardiola and Mourinho and who you think will come out on top?