Pep Guardiola has set the standard to which Jose Mourinho must aspire and emulate if he is to prove the answer to Manchester United’s malaise.
Back in the 1980s, when Manchester United’s high-water mark was carrying off two FA Cups in 1983 and 1985 under big Ron Atkinson, the idea of a sporting Super Sunday was plugging yourself into darts quiz show Bullseye, a cult contest that regularly commanded a whopping weekly audience of 17m viewers. Apparently about 16m more than the UK subscription to Watford’s first win against United on Sunday since Big Ron was manager in Bully’s golden era of 1986.
Hosted by formidable northerner Jim Bowen, one of the more appealing segments of Bullseye arrived when two locals, usually Northern lads and lasses, failed to land the star prize of 101 or more with six darts.
“Come and have a look at what you would have won,” chirped Bowen as a caravan or speedboat was wheeled out to contestants living in landlocked Rutland. We are not yet out of September in the Premier League, but there are probably more than a few United fans who have looked at their technical area occupied by an oddly downbeat Mourinho and across their city to City: they know what United could have won.
It is fair to say, City hit the bullseye when they managed to persuade Pep Guardiola to throw his lot in with them. Financed heavily by the billions of an Abu Dhabi Sheikh, Guardiola has managed to make his side tick at a quicker rate than many thought possible when he succeeded Manuel Pellegrini in July.
Like he managed at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, where he plundered 21 major trophies, Guardiola is building a side in these parts that sets the pulse racing.
It used to be so much simpler for United when Sir Alex Ferguson was manager and City were useless, but the pre-Abu Dhabi era at City has long gone. The richest two football clubs in the world are to be found in Manchester, but City are more than noisy neighbours. They are as much of a Northern powerhouse because of their benefactor Sheikh Mansour.
Did United have a sniff of landing Pep before turning to Jose? There is more prestige at United, but City’s new money can turn heads. Someone once told me that the reserves available to a City manager are comparable to picking up a handful of sand on an Abu Dhabi beach and throwing it into the sea. The beach represents the good old Sheikh’s wallet.
If City have more petrodollars than United, they also possess a more aesthetically pleasing coach. The contrast between City and a stodgy side United is stark. Points make prizes. There is also a gap building here: City with a perfect five wins from five and 15 goals scored at the outset of this league season are six points clear of a United side occupying seventh place, two spots below the much-maligned King Louis van Gaal before his abdication in May.
Of course, the Manchester derby has already been played out on the pitch with City making off with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford last weekend, but this is a derby that is a permanent fixture in the minds. Even if some United fans will argue otherwise.
As long as Mourinho is running United, the pesky Guardiola is the benchmark to which Mourinho must aspire. The 23 trophies he has stockpiled at Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Chelsea will mean nothing if he is the booby prize compared to Pep.
Not just in achieving results, but in the way he handles himself, his thought process and his squad. Guardiola’s admiration for free-flowing, high pressing, expressive, expansive football is already making Mourinho look bad.
Jose Mourinho is doing the opposite to what Pep Guardiola is doing at Man City and it is harming Manchester United in the Premier League.
Guardiola has always been a proponent of retaining possession in Barcelona and Munich while Mourinho is more open to the possibilities of what can be achieved without it. Yet without a clear strategy, all is lost.
City walloped Bournemouth 4-0 on Saturday without Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Such figures were not missed. Who would have believed such a possibility existed only six months ago? Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling look like kids sent out to enjoy themselves.
Mourinho has unearthed around £150m, but has kept faith with Wayne Rooney. Is accommodating a fairly gnarled Rooney in the United midfield damaging the progress of Pogba, who wound up helping out at left-back in the 3-1 collapse at Watford? United did not try to beat Watford by playing football. They tried to beat them up physically by being bigger, only to come up short when that ploy failed. United opted for 4-2-3-1, but tactics mean little when there seems to be a lack of cohesion among the players. Or a willingness to respond to the manager’s wants and needs.
It gave credence to Guardiola’s comments on Saturday night when he could not resist aiming a swipe at Mourinho by proclaiming Bournemouth the best side he has come across because they do not play the “long ball”.
“Bournemouth was until now the best team, who create more problems when they have the ball,” said Guardiola. “The other teams play long balls and they want to play and our high pressing was not perfect.”
Call it petty, but there are ideals and ego to consider. Mourinho had intimated that the rivalry and bad blood built up between the pair when Guardiola was Barcelona coach and the Portuguese, apparently overlooked to become coach at Camp Nou in 2008, was running Real Madrid would be diluted because there is more competition for the Premier League crown in England.
“For two years, Pep and I were in a league where the champion would be either me or him, Real Madrid or Barcelona,” said Mourinho. “In a situation like this, individual fights make sense because they can influence things. But in the Premier League, if I focus on him and Manchester City, and he on me and Manchester United, someone else is going to win the league.”
Chance would be a fine thing. Despite having Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Leicester and Everton to consider, Mourinho continues to be tormented by Guardiola in England. He will continue to haunted by him for as long as he is United manager. If he cannot pip Pep to the main prizes, United will burn him like they did David Moyes and King Louis.
Suffering defeats at outposts like Feyenoord and Watford has contributed to Mourinho’s hangdog look in recent days because his sides presented very much the muddled outlook pedalled by LVG in his descent from the summit.
The ‘Special One’ accused his side of lacking ambition in Rotterdam while he was only too willing to seek out a scapegoat in Watford.
He blamed referee Michael Oliver for contributing to the defeat by failing to disallow Etienne Capoue’s opening goal for a foul beforehand on Anthony Martial, and he hung young left-back Luke Shaw out to dry even though he was carrying an injury in the second half. United players were apparently shocked by Mourinho’s willingness to point the finger, but he is known to shift the blame when life is not to his liking.
And then we hear more contrasts between City and United. Listen to this soundbite from Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City discussing Guardiola. “From what I’ve seen so far we need to be very flexible because no one will stay for 30 minutes in the same role because we are changing all the time.”
For a man who once derided Arsene Wenger as a ‘”specialist in failure”, Mourinho must quickly quell fears that United’s reluctance to turn to him after Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, the last time United carried off the Premier League, was well founded. He was not first choice for United, but third choice in the third year after Fergie. The worry is that he is now third rate rather than a special one.
United are blighted by confusion stemming from their manager. The clarity and purpose of Guardiola has been so far mirrored by Mourinho’s tactical murk.
Source : Eurosport