The greatest rivalry in modern football has officially landed in the City of Manchester. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have yet again found themselves in charge of two rival clubs at the precipice of the global game. Both storied managers are yet again seeking to prove to the world that their individual style of football is best.
The conflict between the two goes back to their teachings as managers, with both being brought up within Barcelona's unique possession and passing oriented style, yet their careers at the top have seen them follow opposing ideologies. What ensues this weekend in Manchester will be a continuation of what has always happened when these two great minds have clashed; a heated debacle that represents something much larger than the clubs they happen to be managing at the time. A battle for the very soul of football; Futebol d'arte vs. Futebol de resultados.
Futebol d'arte is a term that theoretically serves as both practical philosophy and aesthetically appealing football. The Brazil team of the 1970's is said to be the quintessential example of this idea, but under that definition, one may argue that Pep Guardiola's Barcelona of the late 2000's fits that description. Built on the ideals of juego de posicion, a concept that focuses on positional discipline, Guardiola's Barcelona ran rampant through Europe in an efficient and aesthetically pleasing way.
That's quite opposite to the majority of Jose Mourinho's teams that have been criticized for operating under negative footballing concepts: Technically gifted players forced to conform to defensive and reactive football tactics. Nonetheless, Mourinho's style has garnered results, allowing him to fit quite well under the arch of futebol de resultados. The term doesn't exclusively refer to counter-attacking football, just as d'arte doesn't specifically refer to passing football, yet the two managers embody these concepts better than anyone else. Both managers seem to have the best understanding of how to coach and implement their favored ideologies into whatever teams they manage.
Some might wonder why the two coaches have seemingly taken opposing approaches to the game if they were brought up within the same system. Though Mourinho was never a professional player as Guardiola was, both learned most of their managerial skills from their time at Barcelona.
Despite being allowed to coach the Barcelona first team and B team in some competitions under Louie Van Gaal, Mourinho was never fully accepted by the club as a coach for the first team. Guardiola, on the other hand, was given the first team coaching job after only one season of management of the B team. Perhaps it was his known fondness of defensive football that turned the club off to him, but whatever it was seemed to set Mourinho off on a mission to prove that Barcelona's passing/ total football philosophy could be exposed. Meanwhile, Guardiola took hold of the first team and ushered in the most successful period in the history of the storied club, all while improving upon Barcelona's favored system of efficient and beautiful football, their styles growing further and further apart as time went on.
Guardiola favored technically gifted players that were required to be excellent with the ball at their feet and even better without, while Mourinho opted for a mix of physical specimens with some technically excellent players. Mourinho's ideal team would most likely be the one seen in his time at Real Madrid. Michael Essien and Sami Khedira provided the muscle while players like Mesut Özil and Angel Di Maria would provide the technical brilliance required to execute the counter attack. Many examples of his philosophy can be seen in their one touch passing moves that saw them scale the entirety of the pitch. Guardiola's implementation couldn't be more opposite. His buildup was methodical, like a beautifully constructed clock that saw every pass shift the opposition. His positional philosophy culminating into complex yet incredibly simplistic passing triangles that seemed to decimate the opposition in ways that no one even thought to be possible.
The brute yet organized blitzkrieg-esque counter attack vs. the surgically incisive passing team. Since their time in Spain, like two debaters on opposite sides of an immovable issue, their styles have only further developed into themselves. Guardiola insists on his passing oriented style despite garnering some criticism from the likes of Bayern Munich Club official Karl-Heinz Rumminegge, just as Mourinho refuses to change his even if the media constantly criticizes the Portuguese manager for it.
Though both managers have enjoyed success in their time at the top of the managerial game, there are some notable differences when it comes to the implementation and results of their work. Most players who have worked under Guardiola tend to cite him as one of the best coaches they've had the ability to work with and go on about the form they enjoyed due to his lovable coaching style. Mourinho holds this sentiment with some, but as stated before, others have publicly and quite destructively fallen out with the former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager. Cristiano Ronaldo tops the list of players that eventually came to sharp disagreements with Mourinho, but the names also include Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Samuel Eto'o and William Gallas.
Guardiola, with the exception of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a few others, has never faced this chronic meltdown that seems to plague Mourinho in the dressing room. Some say it's because of his rather large personality, but it could also be down to his style of football. Players that are naturally gifted with possession-oriented attributes have become tired of restricting themselves to reactive, defensive football. Ronaldo had this issue with him, and allegedly Hazard thought the same. Guardiola's coaching appears to be something that players can benefit from in the long term, even if he's not coaching them anymore. Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, and David Villa are just a few names that speak highly of his training methods, mentioning how they helped them understand the game better.
The same seems to hold true in regards to the adverse effects of their favored footballing styles. Possession-based teams and organizations that pursue this type of learned football, especially from the youth teams up, can more consistently and sustainably achieve success while also bettering their player crop. Defensive or reactive football, especially the kind of counter-attacking football that Jose Mourinho likes to employ, is something that can't be implemented in the long term. Players need the ball to get better with it in possession. Reactive football is great if it wins you a tournament or trophy, but it simply isn't sustainable. Barcelona is still benefitting from the concepts that Guardiola ingrained into the club during his time in charge.
As for which is better is subjective. Different clubs need different things at different times in their development, and the two Manchester clubs are at different moments in their history, just as the managers enter their tenures under different circumstances. Mourinho's implosion during his second stint at Chelsea was the most disastrous and well documented of his career, while Guardiola is coming off a relatively successful period at Bayern Munich. Some have suggested his time in Bavaria wasn't a success because he didn't win the Champions League, but higher-ups at Bayern consider a success because of the sustainable brand of football that the Munich club has been ingrained with. Mourinho was publicly disliked by major figures at Manchester United, and there is a certain connotation that he is only being given the job because of the desperate situation United are in. Guardiola is walking into a Manchester City organization that has been building for someone like him to arrive for years.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, or even this year, if one thing is for sure, it will be entertaining.