They are celebrated as two giants of modern management. Art versus pragmatism. Silk versus steel. Philosophy versus psychology.
In the blue corner is Pep Guardiola, the philosopher and artist who is the great preserver of Johan Cruyff’s teachings and legacy, commands with tactical enterprise and has a licence to thrill.
In the red corner is Jose Mourinho, the father of reactive football this century, the ultimate man manager, who coaxes the very best out of his teams through tactical intelligence and adroitness.
However, reputations are temporal, no matter how much people want to argue form is temporary and class is permanent.
During Barcelona’s halcyon days post-Ronaldinho, Guardiola was viewed as a god who took sabbaticals because football seemingly became too easy.
It was also only two years that Mourinho had delivered yet another league title to Stamford Bridge, as two years of planning and development came to fruition. Mourinho’s reputation was restored, and his rivals realised that the old magic was still there.
Today, both still stand as great managers with great ambitions. Pep, to finally realise City’s vision and be what Mourinho was to Chelsea the first time around. Build, facilitate and educate a hungry club looking to make the next step in Europe and be truly among the greats of the game.
As for Mourinho, after successive traumatic endings at Madrid and Chelsea, there is talk he is in decline. The objective now, is clearly to repair a reputation that has taken an inevitable hit.
[latest_videos_strip category=”football” name=”Football”]
Manchester City were very good last season when things clicked, but a leaky defence with very little thrust from fullback clearly hurt.
Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus are young and talented. Sergio Aguero remains the best striker in the league on his day and Vincent Kompany still has the means to marshal a defence that has undergone major reconstruction this summer. Stalwarts David Silva and Yaya Toure still have roles to play on and off the pitch to bring success back to the Etihad.
Guardiola has spent a mammoth amount to bring in the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Danilo and Bernardo Silva to recalibrate a misfiring City, who were so disappointing last season. Failure in the league or Champions League will raise questions of whether he is in decline.
Manchester United picked up the Europa League and League Cup last season, despite finishing sixth, which delivered Champions League football. However, their game was laboured and lacked substance despite a solid defence and improving midfield interplay.
Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals, it’s hard to know where United may have ended up. Romelu Lukaku’s early season promise has been encouraging, while the signing of Nemanja Matic may finally help us see the best of Paul Pogba, as he can link higher up the pitch and get more goals.
Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Henrik Mkhitaryan provide Mourinho with some serious creativity and firepower in attack, while Marouane Fellaini is a tactically important plan b to have.
So who is under more pressure to succeed?
Both have a season of acclimatisation under their belt and both have spent big to rectify areas needing improvement. City look the slicker unit on paper, but United are appear increasingly like a Jose Mourinho team who are equally proficient at killing a game through goals or spoiling.
Both clubs seem to have a long-term vision in mind with their appointments, City especially so. They have longed for the former Barcelona manager to be the crown jewel in their ascendency to European champions and beyond, so Sheik Mansour and chairman Khaldoon El Mubarak would not be so trigger happy as, say, Roman Abramovich.
However, from an outsider’s view, Guardiola is under immense pressure to show he can peform with players who fit his style of play. A repeat of last season’s shortcomings would seriously raise questions of Pep’s ability to adapt to the demands of England and deliver success with players of relatively lesser stature compared to the unbelievable quality available to him at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
As for Jose, Ed Woodward has been waiting to find a worthy successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. They too look like being in it for the long haul with Mourinho, who is running out of top-class clubs to turn to for a managerial adventure.
United want to get back to winning the biggest prizes and reestablish themselves as one of Europe’s powerhouses. Mourinho has the experience, charisma and the profile to deliver the return to prominence that United crave. However, the Portuguese gaffer has shown signs of decline in recent years, struggling to go beyond two years without courting controversy and keeping the dressing room united.
United will not accept his divisive nature, refusal to embrace modernity, and the at times negative, ponderous and boring football his teams play for long. He has left both Real Madrid and Chelsea in ignominious circumstances, and there is no guarantee the same will not occur at United.
However, failure would not be so disastrous for Mourinho, because he is seemingly on the wane.
Pep hasn’t failed yet. He hasn’t seen true defeat and failure like Mourinho has, so in that sense Pep is under greater pressure. But he also seems to have time on his side and does not have within him the combustible flame to bring about his own downfall pertaining to the backroom as Mourinho has done in recent years.
That may ultimately see Guardiola and Mourinho fight entirely different battles this season and beyond. For Guardiola to not fall backwards, because he cannot afford to. For Mourinho, to not go up in flames when the pressure is on like it is this season.