Mourinho vs Guardiola: Analysing the Rivalry in the Context of the Premier League

Written by Rhys Paul

Is there a greater managerial rivalry in football today than Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola? On the one side you have Mourinho, a man whose arrogance and charisma is rivalled by few, but one whose extraordinary record of success since 2003 is unquestionable. On the other side you have Guardiola, a man who was a managerial novice at the time of taking the Barcelona job, but subsequently transformed them into one of the greatest teams of a generation and became the most sought after manager in the sport in the process. With 43 trophies between them in five different countries, they are almost in a league of their own and it is genuinely exciting that the Premier League will be only the second league in which the two will square off against each other. This showdown is made even more tantalising by the fact they will line-up on the opposite side of Manchester with the small matter of the Manchester derby raising the stakes even higher.

The Appointments

It seems like forever since Manuel Pellegrini was forced to announce the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola as his replacement at Manchester City. Rumours linking Guardiola to the job went back even further.  It was by no means a formality that Guardiola would call the Etihad home, especially with the amount of clubs looking into his signature. One of the alternatives available was on the red side of Manchester. It might have been historically more appealing, but Guardiola arguably made the safer choice with his decision to make the switch to City. They were always in an advantageous position to win the race for Guardiola given the fact Chief Executive, Ferran Soriano and Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain had been part of the Barcelona hierarchy who gave Guardiola his big break. Naturally, the close relationship they shared with Guardiola (Begiristain was also a former teammate of Guardiola) ultimately proved to be crucial and City’s own stock rose with Guardiola’s decision to become a Citizen.


credit Omnium Cultural

Following their failure to lure Guardiola to Old Trafford, Manchester United were immediately linked with the man who had lead Chelsea to Premier League glory only a season before: Jose Mourinho. It was clear that Louis Van Gaal’s position had become untenable and FA Cup success was not enough to save him from the criticism that had tainted his time at the club. Mourinho’s appointment was inevitable and, by the time it was announced at the end of May, it was simply a case of confirming what everybody already knew. Despite his history with Chelsea – United’s closest competitors for the best part of the century (so far) – Mourinho was welcomed with excitement and optimism from supporters craving a return to the ‘big time’.

The Rivalry

Over the course of 16 meetings, a rivalry between two of the sport’s finest managers has become increasingly heated. In a way, the two are almost polar opposites. Mourinho is both brash and controversial. He surrounds himself with top talent – believing competitiveness will drive the team – and this has more often than not translated into success. Mourinho is also a pragmatist. His brand of football is something that I and many others do not enjoy watching. He is happy for his teams to concede possession as long as they punish the opposition on the counter (a tactic used to great effect by Leicester). A 1-1 draw with Guardiola’s Barcelona when Mourinho was manager of Real Madrid in 2011 saw the latter receive criticism for his negativity in a game that essentially guaranteed Barcelona the league title that season and in spite of Madrid still being in the running. On the contrary, Guardiola prefers to play football the ‘right’ way. It is clear that he inherited the late Johan Cruyff’s philosophy of ‘total football’ from his time spent under him as a part of the hugely successful Barcelona team in the early 1990’s. Possession is key in his eyes and it is with the ball when he believes his teams can deal the most damage. Guardiola’s man-management style has seen him receive universal praise as a coach with his understanding of the game one of the key factors behind his success. Unlike Mourinho, Guardiola usually works with a small squad and opts to develop players rather than buying expensive, quick-fix solutions. Whereas Mourinho demands respect, Guardiola commands it.

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credit Alexsandr Osipov

The roots of conflict can be traced back to 2008. It’s been said that the two front-runners for the Barcelona job were the experienced Jose Mourinho – riding high on his success at Porto and Chelsea – and former player, Pep Guardiola – whose only managerial experience had come from the Barcelona B team. In theory, it is a no-brainer. Nevertheless, the likes of Soriano and Begiristain gambled with their decision and the rest – as they say – is history. The decision did not exactly harm Mourinho (I personally feel he went on to enjoy his best spell as a manager with Inter Milan between 2008 and 2010), but somebody with his character must have felt some bitterness about missing out to a novice. The real reason behind the rivalry is far more simple, however, and it ultimately comes down to their head-to-head record. Guardiola is better than Mourinho. Or he is, at least, the only manager to enjoy such a dominant record over the ‘Special One’. With 7 wins for Guardiola and 6 draws in only 16 contests, Mourinho has only 3 victories to boast of. Remarkably, only one of these wins came in the league. When it comes to Mourinho, Guardiola certainly seems to have worked him out.

What role will the Premier League play?

Mourinho v Guardiola is this generation’s Clough v Revie, Ferguson v Keegan and Wenger v Ferguson. Just like La Liga was Guardiola’s stomping ground, the Premier League is Mourinho’s. The standard of the top teams might have dropped, yet the overall standard of Premier League has improved significantly. So much so that the league is more competitive than it has ever been. Mourinho learnt this last season and Guardiola will have to learn it quickly if he is to adapt to the demands of the league. No longer will he inherit a team already capable of challenging for everything, but instead a team who will need to be rebuilt more than Barcelona and Bayern Munich combined before they are close to the standard Guardiola will expect. I do believe his style and approach to the game means he will be successful wherever he goes. Even so, counter-attacking teams are enjoying far more success in England than ever before and this poses a huge threat to Guardiola’s possession-based tactics. Mourinho has already mastered the top tier of English football. A three-time Premier League winner, Mourinho’s experience at this level gives him the edge coming into the 2016/17 season. It is in this environment in which Mourinho thrives and this will ultimately lead to him adding to his three Premier League trophies by bringing glory back to Old Trafford. Guardiola will still do well and I expect City to still challenge for top spot, I just feel it will take him longer than usual to adapt to his new surroundings. Mourinho guarantees success at this level. However, it will only ever be designed to be short-term. Guardiola, on the other hand, might lose out to Mourinho in his first season, yet he will set the long-term foundations that will enable City to achieve the sustained success previously enjoyed by their neighbours.

Who will come out on top this season, Manchester United or Manchester City? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Omnium Cultural