In Spain the Portugueses Real Madrid twice outscored his rivals Barcelona but the Manchester United managers big-match caution comes at a price while City are dazzling
It can feel like a trick of the imagination sometimes to remember there was once a time when Jos Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were comrades. Not friends, perhaps, but certainly allies and close enough that Guardiola saved his future bete noire from a tight spot back in the days before Mourinho, as Real Madrid manager, started referring to Barcelona only as ellos (them).
Its a great story given what we know now. Barcelona were playing Athletic Bilbao at San Mams and at full-time Luis Fernndez, the home teams manager, appeared ready to throttle the newly appointed coach who was beside Bobby Robson in the opposition dugout. Mourinho had gone too far with his insults and gestures and curling of the lip. He was surrounded by Basques, with only Lus Figo backing him up, until Guardiola, the Bara captain, suddenly appeared in Fernndezs face.
Guardiola did not use physical force because a man of his status had other means to settle the argument. He simply used his force of personality the fact he was not just anyone and the power of eye contact, staring daggers at the Athletic players, daring them to disobey him, before chaperoning Mourinho to the safety of the dressing rooms. His intervention was achieved with pure charisma, Paolo Condo, the Italian sportswriter, recalls in The Duellists, his book about the conflict between the two men. He didnt raise a hand, he didnt make any threats, just using the weight of his own leadership.
Condo was the international correspondent on Gazzetta dello Sport for many years and takes the title of his book from the 1977 film of the same name, Ridley Scotts directorial debut, featuring the story of two French soldiers, Armand dHubert and Gabriel Freud, who had a trivial quarrel that escalated into a lifelong grudge. DHubert, like Guardiola, was cold, superior and detached. Feraud was stubborn, hot-tempered and over the top. Pep is considered to be a figure of perfect sportsmanship, the flawless and fearless knight who offers his hand to his opponent before and after the battle, the author writes. Mou, meanwhile, subscribes to the football equivalent of Italian minister Rino Formicas definition of politics as blood and shit.
Its nicely put, even if there might be a few Manchester United supporters who dispute the follow-up line Thats what the fans hunger for now Mourinho is going through another of those phases, as he does at every club, where he is picking fights that dont really exist, walking into press conferences with the expression of an untipped waiter and showing, yet again, why Barcelona rejected him for their managers job because, as their former vice-president, Ferran Soriano, now of Manchester City, once wrote, he generates media conflict almost permanently.
The latest game of Whats eating Jos? is certainly nothing new and, though he is never an easy man to second-guess, it isnt the greatest leap of logic to suspect his spiky mood might have something to do with being caught in Manchester Citys wing mirrors and the superlatives that are being attached to the team put together by his old adversary.
Mourinho may have a supersized ego but people with immense selfbelief are not immune to occasional insecurities. Or, indeed, jealousy. And, though these are still early days, there isnt a lot to substantiate Roy Keanes assertion that City might yet collapse because its in the clubs DNA to mess up.
The old City, perhaps. Yet Keane appears to be talking about a time when it was Kevin Horlock, not Kevin De Bruyne, in midfield and Alan Ball used to turn up for press conferences clutching a can of cider. These days, the phrase Typical City is probably best summed up by the fact they have scored 35 goals in their 10 Premier League fixtures, as well as knocking in four against the Serie A leaders in midweek, and could still greedily add Alexis Snchez to their forward line in January. Apart from the colour of their shirts and the first letter of their postcode, the modern City feel a long way removed from the days of Jamie Pollock, Bernard Manning, Kappa shirts and Kippax melancholy.
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