Manchester United analysis: Can Mourinho ever top Guardiola?

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on December 2, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on December 2, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) /

With Manchester City having assembled the best squad in the Premier League and playing the best football as well the city of Manchester has a very interesting drama about it.  Can Mourinho ever top Pep Guardiola?

Yes, of course.

That’s the simple answer but as in all things be they relationships, finance, sex or life nothing is truly that simple.

The debate begins long ago in Barcelona.  Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have known each other for a very, very long time.  There was a time when Guardiola was a star player for the second best Barcelona side of all time (he coached the first) and Mourinho was an assistant coach there.  Guardiola was a star at Nou Camp and to the people of Catalonia he was a hero.  His “Catalonia this is for you” claim when returning with the European cup is still talked about in the coffee shops and bars of the seaside Spanish state.

Mourinho is different.  His career derailed early through injury he invested himself in the idea of management early on.  His brain and frankly balls were apparent early on when he got a job under Bobby Robson in Portugal as a young man having met him in the elevator of their apartment building.  Remind yourself the level of intelligence of which we’re speaking by the way.

This was a teenager whose keen understanding of language allowed him to eschew his way from personal translator to eventually head coach of Manchester United with many stops in between.  Do not doubt that intelligence for it would make you the fool.

This is a perhaps more personal story because I am a Chelsea supporter.  I have been since I was 9-10 years old and Zola, Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen and Vialli (eventually replaced by Rainieri) captured my heart. Then came Abramovich and he changed things, which many people hate but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed every second of it, but that picked up pace with Mourinho. Here was a genius.  A real genuine to the bones genius.

We didn’t need to be bullied by United and Arsenal anymore.  Here was a man who could turn the tide and change the order of things.  People didn’t like us but who cared?  Respect for the establishment is something the establishment tells you to have so you know to stay in place beneath them.  We wanted revolution.  Mourinho helped us tear down the establishment and we loved him for it. Recent years have exposed something though.

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Mourinho is not a football coach.  He doesn’t necessarily improve his players on a fundamental level in the way that Guardiola does. He’s a tactician of the highest order yes but the reason he buys players instead of grows them is because he is a manager and not a coach and that is where he and Guardiola are different.

I would say that Guardiola is a philosopher and Mourinho a general.  They could not be more principally different men and it does all begin during those days in Barcelona.  Guardiola was the footballing star and Mourinho the calculated intellectual young coach.  It wouldn’t be remiss to suggest perhaps there’s an element of Mourinho that envies Guardiola, though he’d die before he admitted it.

The truth is simple though in their differences lie many truths.  Guardiola wins hearts and minds. Mourinho wins matches.  To this day it is still Mourinho who has proven to be the better manager. Argue it if you want but try not to be so personal.  He has won in Portugal, England, Italy, Spain and then England again and with multiple teams in England mind you. Guardiola has won in Spain and Germany.  That is all.

Guardiola is romantic and Mourinho is a pragmatist.

If any manager in the world will be able to beat Guardiola it will be the man who has observed him since before he knew he was going to become a manager. It will be Mourinho, who has watched from the shadows for almost two decades and built up an arsenal of tricks, maneuvers and tactics with which to do it.

It may not be this season because Manchester City do look too good this season but Mourinho will be the man to do it.  United would aid him by hiring a football man instead of Ed Woodward but that won’t happen most likely.

City will, for my money at least, probably be the best team in Premier League history this year.  They’re talented, deep, committed and strong.  Success is the ultimate spoiler though and maybe after a few seasons players will begin to forget what it is that got them their.  Quickly are the minds of men to become distracted by the idea of their own greatness and often they’re thankless of the principles that got them there.

Mourinho conquered him in Madrid and I imagine it will be the same.  A drag it out in the mud fight but Mourinho will take a major trophy from Guardiola and that’s all it will take.  They say in legends you must make a God bleed to give hope to others.  It will be Mourinho who does it and then others will believe and follow suit.  Guardiola’s Barcelona team were the best team of all time.  Fact.  Mourinho eventually did it there and then you’ll see that Barcelona team fell apart in the aftermath once they had been proven beatable.

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It might not happen on a large-scale.  It may be one major trophy.  A league, an FA cup or  a Champions League title but Mourinho will beat Guardiola eventually.  He’s observed how to do it for 20 years and is the only one who really knows how.

This is a battle that started in Barcelona and we should be glad it is now in Britain.