This weekend’s match between Manchester United and Manchester City will feature two loaded teams that many consider the strongest contenders to win the Premier League. But instead of focusing on the players, all anyone really wants to talk about is the dueling managers.
Though United’s José Mourinho and City’s Pep Guardiola have similarly crowded trophy cases, their personalities could not be more different. While Guardiola is ever respectful of his opponents, Mourinho loves to talk shit. That, along with the fact that they’ve consistently wound up managing top-level European teams that face off against one another, has created the most compelling coaching rivalry in soccer – outside of Arsene Wenger v. coats.
When Mourinho took charge of Real Madrid – Barcelona’s biggest rival – the real shithousery began.
Mourinho spent four years as an assistant at Barcelona while Guardiola still played there. Perhaps this coaching experience, along with the managerial success he achieved by winning the Champion’s League with Porto in 2004 and two Premier League championships with Chelsea, would have made him the favorite for the Barcelona job when it opened up in 2008. But to his surprise, the job went to Guardiola, whose only managerial experience to that point was managing Barcelona B.
Barcelona’s hiring decision turned out to be an inspired choice, as Guardiola went on to produce one of the most dominant teams in European history. Under his watch, the team won the Champion’s League two out of three years between 2009 and 2011. In the year in between, Guardiola met Mourinho in a competitive match for the first time in the tournament’s semi-finals. The Portuguese manager was leading Internazionale. Most expected Barcelona to advance past Inter, but Mourinho had other ideas. In a match in Spain that Barcelona needed to win by two goals, a 10-man Inter happily let Guardiola’s team play its possession heavy game, but held on for a 1-0 defeat that was a huge win. Inter went on to the finals where Mourinho won his second Champion’s League title. Mourinho was more than happy to rub it in Barcelona’s nose, too.
This Saturday, it’s not just Mourinho who can claim beef with Guardiola. Manchester United player Zlatan Ibrahimović used his book as an opportunity to drop his own bombs on Pep. After losing to Inter, their relationship – which was never in a good place – fell apart. And Zlatan let him know how he truly felt about him. “You haven’t got any balls,” he said. “You’re shitting yourself in front of Mourinho. You can go to hell!”
If Guardiola was already fed up with Mourinho in 2010 with only two matches against him under his belt, things were about to get a lot worse. His nemesis took charge of Real Madrid – Barcelona’s biggest rival – and the real shithousery began.
Bad behavior marred the matches played between Barcelona and Madrid, known as El Clásico, during this era. And by bad behavior, I mostly mean Real Madrid didn’t know how to act, and Mourinho encouraged the players. He also didn’t shy away from putting himself in the mix. In the second leg of the 2011 Spanish Supercopa, his Madrid played an especially ugly match that ended in a Barcelona trophy and a scuffle. Marcelo’s foul on Cesc Fàbregas got him sent off late in the game. Because the foul took place near the sidelines, Barcelona’s bench immediately complained. Before long, both sets of players pushed and shoved. Two more were sent off. Mourinho took advantage of the chaos to poke the late Tito Vilanova, a Barcelona assistant coach minding his own business, in the eyes.
In a press conference afterward, Mourinho purposely called Vilanova by the wrong name – even when given a chance to correct it by a reporter. “Pito” (slang for dick), honestly applied more to Mourinho than it did to Vilanova, who would go on to become the Barcelona manager and win the league in 2013 before passing away the next year due to cancer.
Guardiola’s mostly composed, but he’s taken some pointers from his rival, too. In a rare Mourinho-like moment, Guardiola even held an out of character press conference. He ceded the advantage in the press room to Mourinho. “In this room, he’s the fucking boss,” he said. But on the field, he was more than happy to go toe to toe with Mourinho’s teams.
During their shared time in Spain, Guardiola mostly got the better of Mourinho, both in head-to-head results and in overall silverware. Obviously, that never sat well with Mourinho and he argued otherwise. “Go there and see what happened with Inter in the Champions League semi-final,” he said. “I won the Spanish cup final in Valencia, I won the Super Cup in Spain. I was champion in Spain. I won the match for the title in Barcelona with Real Madrid.”
The overall record shows that Guardiola has won seven of their 16 matches; Mourinho’s only claimed victory three times. The other six were ties. In fairness to Mourinho, that doesn’t tell the entire story. Guardiola possessed one of the best teams of all time, and Mourinho got good results – even coming away with some trophies. It seems almost impossible that since 2009, Real Madrid has only won the Spanish league once. Mourinho engineered that title over Guardiola, who subsequently stepped down and took time away from managing. Ever gracious, Guardiola congratulated his rival. “We have to congratulate Madrid for their win and the title that they have also won tonight,” he said.
That congratulatory message offered a stark contrast to the time Mourinho claimed Guardiola’s only Champion’s League trophy was tainted and he should be embarrassed by it. Guardiola would go on to win another one. He often drove Mourinho to be at his conspiracy theorizing worst at Madrid.
Mourinho’s petty and never forgets, which is the best combination in a coach if you ask me. After he won the Premier League with Chelsea in 2015, he made sure to note that his accomplishment was better than anything Guardiola could muster while coaching German power Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. “Maybe in the future I have to be smarter and choose another club in another country where everybody is champion,” Mourinho said. “Maybe I will go to a country where a kitman can be coach and win the title.”
This year, both of them started a new chapter in their careers in Manchester. The two have now held their new jobs for just a few months. So far, it’s been peaceful. But that’s easy when they’ve yet to play a match against each other. It’s also bound to escalate once again because Mourinho is Mourinho.