Pep versus Jose: beauty against the beast

Battle royal: Guardiola (left) has beaten Mourinho (right) seven times. © PA

Football’s two most famous managers restart their feud this weekend as Manchester United play Manchester City. Which is better: Mourinho’s pragmatism or Guardiola’s idealism?

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are football management’s two superstars. They are the Messi and Ronaldo of the dugout. And — like the two best players in the world — they exhibit an intense rivalry, exacerbated by stark differences between them.

At lunchtime on Saturday they will be standing ten yards apart as Mourinho’s Manchester United team host Guardiola’s Manchester City. Watching will be 75,000 fans at Old Trafford, and millions more on television. It is the first time the two managers have met since their time at Real Madrid and Barcelona. Their sides are the favourites to win the Premier League this season, and many fans are predicting an era of dominance for the Manchester clubs if Mourinho and Guardiola stay there for long.

Their conflict and mutual dislike is a wider symbol of a greater divide in football and in sport. They would give very different answers to football’s big questions: how should the game be played? What is the point of playing?

Guardiola believes that football is primarily a form of entertainment, and his teams play in an attacking, short-passing style that can be mesmerising to watch. He is a thinker and an innovator, and as a consequence is loved by the world’s purists, idealists and romantics.

Their nemesis is Jose Mourinho. While he is best known for being an exceptional defensive coach, the main difference between him and Guardiola is best summed up by Eidur Gudjohnsen, who played under both. He says ‘Guardiola will not leave his style of play to get a result; Mourinho would.’ In other words, Mourinho values winning above all else. He does not want to be liked, and he is not preoccupied by a desire to entertain neutrals.

Almost every sport carries the central question of whether aesthetics or effectiveness is more important. The tennis rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was marked by Federer’s technically perfect, artistic style and Nadal’s more attritional method. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier clashed in similar ways in boxing. The question even goes beyond sport. After all, what is the main point of a building: to look beautiful or to serve a purpose?

Live to win

How dreary the world would be if everything were geared exclusively towards material success, say devotees of Guardiola. Fans pay a lot of money to watch football, the beautiful game, and managers therefore have a responsibility not to bore them. Beauty matters, in sport and in life.

‘Would you care about pragmatic football if it brought your team success?’ counter admirers of Jose Mourinho. Football is merely a set of rules, and you must try to win within those rules. Who is to say that one style is somehow morally superior to another?

You Decide

  1. Which do you prefer: the idealism of Guardiola or the pragmatism of Mourinho?
  2. Is the importance of managers and coaches overrated?


  1. Think of a pair of contemporary rivals who differed greatly from each other, and make a presentation about them to your class. They do not have to be sportsmen or sportswomen; they could be writers, politicians or artists, for example.
  2. ‘The world is divided into bold progressives, like Guardiola, and cautious conservatives like Mourinho.’ Discuss this statement.

Some People Say...

“I’d rather play badly and win 1-0 than play well and draw 3-3.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Have they always disliked each other?
Oddly enough, no. They used to get on well in the 1990s at Barcelona where Guardiola was a player and Mourinho a relatively lowly coach. There is a famous photograph of the two men hugging each other after a match in 1997. But their relationship became strained the more they came up against each other as managers.
How have they done so far this season?
Both United and City have made excellent starts. Along with Chelsea, they are the only teams in the Premier League to have won their first three matches, although neither team has played a title rival yet, making this game all the more important. Bookmakers think City are more likely to win the league, but home advantage means they think United have a better chance of winning on Saturday.

Word Watch

Real Madrid and Barcelona
Guardiola’s time in charge of Barcelona, where he spent most of his playing career, saw him build what many believe to be the best club team of all time. Mourinho was manager of Real Madrid for three years, winning the league in his second season. The rivalry between Spain’s two foremost clubs is arguably the biggest in the world.
Mutual dislike
As well as simple differences in character, Mourinho said several times that referees gave Guardiola’s Barcelona team an easy ride, while Guardiola has accused Mourinho of being excessively arrogant.
Played under both
Gudjohnsen played for Mourinho while at Chelsea and for Guardiola at Barcelona. Cesc Fabregas, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o and Xabi Alonso have also played for both managers.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier
Frazier was the boxer who gave Muhammad Ali more trouble than anyone during his career. He employed a relatively dull style in contrast to Ali, whose pre-fight outbursts and fast reactions in the ring made him the ultimate entertainer.


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