For many years, the football world looked at the city of Manchester and found United reigning as supreme leaders. There was a time when Manchester City were scared of their cross-town neighbours. It lasted an age, from City’s 5-1 win at Maine Road in 1989 right up to their 1-0 triumph in the 2011 FA Cup semifinal.
Despite the odd win here and there in that 22-year period, City fans largely dreaded derby day and often prepared excuses before the match just in case their side let them down again. But, the past six years have witnessed City rise through the ranks to prove they are more than just United’s noisy neighbours.
Fast-forward to present day and City are far from the side with tails between their legs. In fact, the Cityzens are leading the Premier League charts with a cushion of eight points achieved on the back of 13 consecutive league wins – the joint-longest in EPL history. To sum it up, on the 10th of December, when City visits Old Trafford for the high-voltage Manchester derby, they will have a rare chance at creating history with a new record for the longest-winning streak.
It’s safe to say that City fans aren’t scared of the derby anymore, rather it’s United who have found themselves chasing their unpopular city rivals this season. Well, it’s needless to say that all those things set up the perfect premise for the Sunday thriller which is already being presumed as the title clash as the football world gears up for a major power shift in Manchester.
There’ll be no shortage of excitement and the level of football expected to be played renders an epic showdown. But, at the heart of it all is that two-hander, the itch that refuses to be scratched. The rivalry between the two men – Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho – behind the curtains pulling all the strings. With its deeply personal animus, its shades of light and dark, the Jose-Pep story has been told many times but it remains a deliciously cinematic affair which undoubtedly adds more teeth to the Sunday thriller.
Birth Of A Rivalry
“Friendship…Well, no, not quite friendship, but a working relationship,” was how Guardiola looked back on his time with Mourinho when they first met at Barcelona in 1996. The Portuguese arrived as a coaching assistant to Sir Bobby Robson, whom he had worked for at Sporting Lisbon and Porto as a translator.
On the other hand, Guardiola was growing into a senior member of the Barcelona squad with his own Catalan nationalism, named captain under Robson’s successor Louis van Gaal. Guardiola and Mourinho did interact during their time together but, like Pep stated earlier, it was all professional.
Lurking in the shadows, Mourinho stayed long enough to learn at the feet of Van Gaal to develop his own set of coaching skills. But, his time at Barca was always clouded by the nickname ‘The Translator’ – a title that undermined his coaching quality and responsibility.
Unperturbed by what people thought of him at Barca, Mourinho used all his experience from Camp Nou and built his own coaching legend elsewhere. In 2008, he had assumed the Barcelona coaching job was his for the taking. But, with Guardiola’s appointment, the Portuguese was once again reminded what he or his achievements meant to the Catalan giants. Thus, almost a sibling-like conflict came to the fore.
Maiden Battle Ground
As the dichotomy presented itself – Jose, the dark angel and Pep, the natural heir, there was no better place for the duo to face-off than the Champions League. The stage was set with Guardiola building Barcelona and Mourinho rebuilding at Inter Milan and ready to prove his naysayers wrong after getting the boot from Chelsea.
Following a tepid group-stage meeting, the rivalry between the two managers was set by a raging encounter in the tournament’s semi-final. Amid some controversy and outspoken remarks, the first-leg eventually went in favour of the Portuguese after Inter Milan eked out a 3-1 win at the San Siro in 2010.
Eight days later, despite being reduced to 10-men owing to a red card for Thiago Motta, Mourinho’s tactics stifled Barcelona who could only muster a 1-0 result in the second-leg. The defending champions suffered an embarrassing exit from the competition as an impassioned Mourinho charged down the pitch in celebration at the final whistle.
Spanish League Debacle
While their time in the La Liga spanned for just two seasons, Mourinho and Guardiola pit their wits against each other on 11 occasions where the beautiful game quickly transformed into an ugly off-field battle. After notching up the Champions League honours with Inter Milan, Mourinho understandably drew the attention of Real Madrid.
While the Los Blancos were trying to cope with Barcelona’s dominance in Spain, Mourinho appeared to be the befitting answer for Guardiola’s tactical acumen. Their first El Clasico went in favour of the Spaniard after Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 5-0.
Their already feisty relationship deteriorated further when the two teams locked horns four times in 18 days, in three competitions. A La Liga draw was followed by a Copa del Rey title win for Real Madrid, before a toxic two-legged Champions League semi-final summed up the affairs.
A disputed decision in the Copa del Rey final instigated Guardiola to claim: “He’s been winning off the pitch all season. Let them give him a Champions League for it so he can enjoy it and take it home”. Guardiola’s men responded on the pitch with a 2-0 win in the first-leg of the Champions League. Thanks to his explosive press conference, Mourinho was banned from the dugout for the return leg which ended in a 1-1 draw allowing Barcelona to progress further.
The following season brought an end to their rivalry with Guardiola choosing to take a sabbatical before eventually joining Bayern Munich. But, it was not before the darkest hour in their rivalry shocked everyone. In the first of the six Clasicos that season, a strong challenge from Real’s Marcelo lead to a scuffle between the two benches where Mourinho was seen poking Guardiola’s assistant – Tito Vilanova – in the eye.
The New Hunting Ground
After carrying out their operations in La Liga, the football fanatics were elated to see the old rivals taking up their respective roles in the Premier League. With Guardiola being roped in by Manchester City, the Red Devils – just like Real Madrid – opted for Mourinho to maintain pressure on their city rivals.
Despite the big-bucks signings and major squad reshuffle, their first season in-charge didn’t really go as expected by their respective fans as both the Manchester clubs failed to lift the EPL title which was eventually won by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. While City finished at the third spot with 78 points, United were left languishing in sixth place with just 69 points to show for their efforts.
Following their frailties in the first season, both Mourinho and Guardiola seems to have settled in pretty nicely. But, so far in the ongoing season, it’s the Spaniard who seems to be in a better place than his Portuguese counterpart. It will not really be surprising if Guardiola comes out on top this Sunday, but then again, you never know what Mourinho might pull out from under his sleeve in this crunch match.
Though their rivalry has probably passed its prime and the managerial siblings might have toned down the aggression over the years, these two men will surely not be uniting the blue and red of Manchester anytime soon.