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Pep and José – brothers from different footballing mothers

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Mauricio Suchowlansky is an Argentine historian with a passion for football, and food that can be eaten with one hand. Here he explores the values that Mourinho and Guardiola share, despite their differences.


When pragmatism and idealism cross paths

Pep vs. José. Mourinho vs. Guardiola. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona. Manchester United vs. Manchester City. Speaking about two of the best working coaches in the world is to refer to a great chasm in the philosophy of football. Indeed, it could be said that the abyss that divides them pertains to a crucial question: Why do we play, watch and love football?

On the one end, Mourinho is recurrently depicted as a pragmatist whose coaching ethos pertains more to engrossing his title record even if it takes “parking the bus” or giving up on any aesthetic or moral standards. Guardiola, on the other, is often portrayed as a “romantic,” a purist, and the heir of the “total football” style that Johan Cruyff  brought to life in Holland and then at Barcelona.

Be that, however, as it may, Guardiola and Mourinho have a lot in common – and no, it is not all about the time when José was Bobby Robson’s assistant coach at Barcelona (though there’s a bit of that too!). For one, both Guardiola and Mourinho have the temperament, the personality, to manage a dressing room plagued with football stars. Dealing with the likes of Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso or Xavi, Aguero or E’too is not an easy task. And it probably takes much more than strong managing skills (“cojones,” as they call it in Spanish) to wave goodbye to big names, such as Wayne Rooney or Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Secondly, despite his “poetic” stance, Guardiola has called himself a pragmatist. “Look at my past,” Guardiola observed, “I am so pragmatic. I’m here because I won. I want to win. I’m so pragmatic, guys – concede few goals and score goals.” Bingo. Guardiola, much like his alleged ideological nemesis, appeals to the one thing that keeps coaches in their clubs – winning – when it comes to defining his love and passion for the game.

José’s results at Porto, Chelsea, Inter, and Real Madrid speak for themselves: a grand total of 25 titles, including two Europa Leagues, and two Champions League trophies. Despite Jose Mourinho’s tongue-in-cheek observation concerning “quality football” (“There are lots of poets in football but poets, they don’t win many titles”), Guardiola’s abilities have earned him a fair amount of silverware. Having earned twenty-two titles so far, Pep isn’t too far behind.

Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, Mourinho and Guardiola are both strong proponents of a solid defensive line. This is perhaps one of the aspects Guardiola has had to learn over the course of his first season at Manchester City. We may thus say that not all aspects of the “tiki-taka” can be transposed from one league, one club, one player to the other. City’s defensive work this season, despite the ups-and-downs of Stones, Otamendi and Kompany, has been critical to the eleven-point lead they hold at the top of the table. Since early September, Guardiola’s side have kept eleven clean sheets. Also, while the Citizens are the highest-scoring team in the EPL, they also excel in the “goals against” category with a mere 11 goals conceded in 17 games played.

Mourinho’s supposedly defensive style has proved to be incredibly effective when it comes to scoring goals. Take for instance Real Madrid’s 2011-2012 season: not only did Real Madrid earn that year’s title with a record of 100 points, but they also scored a grand total of 121 goals in 38 matches. Not too shabby for Mourinho’s bus-parking antics, eh?

In brief, while José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have certainly developed their coaching careers by approaching football from different tactical angles, this does not mean there are no points of intersection between the two. Top managers as they are, Mourinho and Guardiola have demonstrated that there’s no one yardstick to measure the complexities of all things football. And that is precisely why we play, watch, and love football.


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