English Football

Let the battle of Manchester begin

mopep

THE contrast between the unveiling of Manchester’s two new uber-bosses could not have been more dramatic: the manager as rock star versus the sniper from the dugout. If the past week is anything to go by, Pep Guardiola will charm the fans and the media and Jose Mourinho will resume his war of words with those he likes to aggravate.

When Mourinho first came to England, the novelty of a pan-European young Brian Clough made you laugh and for journalists, it made for good copy. The most recent Mourinho tirade against Arsene Wenger was unnecessary, badly worded by and felt like an old vinyl record going over the same groove. It’s not really Manchester United, but they’ve paid the money, they will take their chance.

He may have scored a bit of an own goal by letting Giggs go. Admittedly, there was no way he was going to get the job, and Mourinho is right in pushing any accountability to his employers, but as a talisman, interpreter (not language, I would add) and acolyte, Giggs might have been useful.

The more you see of Mourinho, the more you realise he may be a one trick pony. The trick works well until everyone realises it lacks flexibility and unpredictability. Mourinho is anything but unpredictable. United know what they will get and while his way is effective, the club will tolerate Mourinho’s bitchiness, psycho-games and tantrums, but once the gloss wears off, as it inevitably will, the regime will collapse once more.

Like most people, I admire Mourinho’s focus and his track record, but after a decade of watching it, I find his antics tiresome and wish he would change his style. If the Beatles had made a dozen “Please, Please Me” albums, we would have all got fed up with them by 1966, and if David Bowie hadn’t morphed from Major Tom to Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke, he would not have left such a legacy. Mourinho is in danger of wearing the record out.

So while Portugal’s most durable export (apart from Madeira, of course) was shooting from behind his newly-acquired United scarf, Guardiola was perched atop a stool looking like a Euro-crooner in a Pop Art studio. This was razamatazz, almost presidential, and 5,000 fans loved it. Above all, it was an exercise in carefully choreographed flesh-pressing to get the proletariat on his side.

Let’s not forget, though, that Pep has as big an ego as his counterpart over in Salford. He has brought with him to England a predictable entourage and he has made a few jibes at United to make his mark in the sand. But City see his arrival as the start of a new, glorious era – hence the marketing men have come up with “It begins”. And in the beginning, Pep will create “beautiful football” in the Premier – or so the script says.

You get the feeling he is going to win the battle of the city of Manchester. Guardiola doesn’t leave scorched earth anywhere and his record speaks for itself. Mourinho may hint that it is easy to win a title with teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but that was the accusation that has long been laid at the door or United, although since Ferguson departed, the club has clearly lost its mojo.

Can Mourinho change that? I think he can in the short-term, but I don’t expect him to last more than a couple of seasons. And if Pep makes a dramatic start to his Etihad career, the pressure will be on Mourinho to pull something out of the hat. His career has been made on an impactful first season, so it is not beyond him to come out of the trap at full speed – even with a 34 year-old striker!

How their records compare:

Guardiola (age 45)
Last UEFA Champions League win: 2010-11
Career win rate: 73%
Last five years:
Bayern Munich – three Bundesligas, two DFB Cup wins, World Club Cup
Barcelona – La Liga win, World Club Cup

Mourinho (age 53)
Last UEFA Champions League win: 2009-10
Career win rate: 66%
Last five years:
Chelsea – Premier League, Football League Cup
Real Madrid – La Liga win.

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