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

Sunday Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - Boxing - BY SI­MON MUL­LOCK Chief Football Writer

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

Barcelona coach,

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

deCou­bertin

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