LET THE MIND GAMES BEGIN
Jose will do everything he can to get inside Pep’s head as he chases down City in title race
JOSE MOURINHO once ordered Real Madrid’s groundsman not to cut the Bernabeu grass in a bid to slow down Pep Guardiola.
Six-and-a-half years on from the petty row that escalated into one of football’s most vitriolic rivalries, Mourinho has to find another way to derail his great nemesis.
Guardiola’s Manchester City lead Mourinho’s Manchester United by eight points at the top of the Premier League.
Once more Catalan Pep is being hailed as a genius – and Portuguese Jose is fighting the old accusation that he is an enemy of football.
But, in times of trouble, Mourinho can be at his most dangerous.
And, in the spring of 2011, he used all the black arts at his disposal to mentally undermine Guardiola when his Real Madrid team faced Pep’s Barcelona four times in 18 days.
The episode is described in great detail in a book called The Duellists, by Italian journalist Paolo Condo, that has just been translated into English.
And it shows why Guardiola will want this season’s title race to be a battle of skills rather than wills.
Guardiola had won successive La Liga titles, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey in his first two seasons as Barcelona boss, when Real took the decision, in the summer of 2010, that Mourinho was the only man capable of stopping him.
But Real were humiliated 5-0 in the first El Clasico of the season – and, by the time the teams met again at the Bernabeu the following April, Barca were eight points clear, with just seven games remaining.
Mourinho decided that Guardiola had to be stopped at all costs – because in the coming weeks they would also meet in the final of the Copa del Rey and a two-legged Champions League semi-final.
The Portuguese told
Madrid’s ground staff to allow the grass to grow
– and, after winning his first five El Clasicos as
Guardiola was forced to settle for a 1-1, despite
Real ending with 10 men.
Players from both sides fought a brawl in the tunnel at the final whistle.
When the two teams met again four days later in the final of the Copa del Rey, it was Real who triumphed in extra-time, thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo header and a marginal offside decision that ruled out a Barca effort.
“First of all, I want to congratulate Real Madrid,” said Guardiola, before commenting on the fine line between failure and success. That gave Mourinho the ammunition he needed to crank up the psychological warfare ahead of the first Champions League meeting in the Spanish capital.
Guardiola had also made it clear that he was unhappy about reports that a Portuguese referee would officiate.
Barca’s defeat at the same stage by Mourinho’s Inter, 12 months earlier, had come with a Portuguese official in charge of the first leg.
When UEFA said that Wolfgang Stark – a German referee who had confessed to being such a big fan of Lionel Messi that he had asked the Argentine for his shirt at the 2010 World Cup – would be in charge, it prompted Mourinho to shoot from the lip.
He said: “If the referee doesn’t make a mistake in his favour, then Pep won’t be happy.”
Guardiola responded: “In this press room, he [Mourinho] is the f***ing boss. On the pitch, I try to learn from him every time we play each other. Off the pitch, however, I try to learn as little as possible.”
When Guardiola returned to the team hotel, he was given a standing ovation by his players.
With the first-leg at 0-0, Madrid blinked first. Sergio Ramos picked up a yellow card that triggered a suspension, Pepe was sent off and Mourinho was banished to the stands for dissent.
Two Lionel Messi goals gave Barca a priceless advantage, before another fight in the tunnel between players who had won the World Cup together for Spain less than 12 months earlier.
“I’ve won two Champions Leagues, but ON the pitch and with two teams who weren’t Barcelona,” said Mourinho.
“The first was with Porto, from a country where teams don’t usually win the Champions League. The second was Inter, who hadn’t won for 50 years.”
He added: “Josep Guardiola is a fantastic coach. But I would be ashamed of the Champions League he has won. I hope and wish that one day he gets the chance to win a proper Champions League.”
Mourinho watched the second leg in his hotel room. It ended 1-1. Barcelona went on to beat Manchester United in the Wembley final.
Guardiola seemed to be the winner – but the war of words took its toll.
The following season, Mourinho’s Madrid won La Liga by nine points, before Guardiola announced his intention to take a 12-month sabbatical from the game to recover from the mental stress.
Now, after almost 18 months of relative peace between the two rivals in Manchester, don’t be surprised if the end of the international break signals a renewal of hostilities.
RED MIST: Jose Mourinho is sent to the stands (above) in 2011 and Pep with Chanpions League in 2009 (below) COLD SHOULDER: Mourinho gives Guardiola a pat on the head before El Clasico in 2011 The Duellists by Paolo Condo is published by