The Mourinho-Guardiola rivalry never ends, neither does it get boring even for a second, but 20 years ago they were friends, good friends, at least from what they fed the cameras.
So it continues even after Robson leaves, with Mourinho staying on under Louis van Gaal until 2000. When celebrating one title, Mourinho shouts: “Today and forever, Barça in my heart!”
Yes, they used to be friends.
In 1996, Jose Mourinho arrives at Barcelona as the translator (and general factotum) of Bobby Robson, tasked with providing a bridge between his boss and the squad. He soon identifies Guardiola as one of the leaders worth knowing. “They were quite friendly,” Robson said. Guardiola: “It was a working relationship.”
When and how did this end? And why? Just why?
The pair are impressed, yet wary of the conflict Mourinho might create. They opt for Guardiola, whose only achievement is to have led Barça B to promotion from the fourth division. That rejection has, by many, been portrayed as the backdrop for Mourinho’s resentment of the club.
It’s a picture that shows a different time and frankly, one that people nowadays might find hard to imagine; Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, sat side-by-side as friends, wearing crests of the same club.
It was April 16, 2000, that such a snap was taken, 20 years ago. Guardiola, 29, was approaching the end of his penultimate season at Barcelona, where he’d won six league titles and the European Cup in 1992.
Mourinho was 37 and approaching the end of his time at Barca as part of Louis van Gaal’s coaching setup. Less than six months later he would be his own man at Benfica, embarking on the start of a managerial career that would see a great rivalry emerge with old friend Guardiola.
But in April 2000, they were friends.
‘We did talk about things when we both had doubts, and we would exchange ideas, but I don’t remember it as something which defined our relationship,’ Guardiola once said of Mourinho.
‘He was (Bobby) Robson’s assistant (before Van Gaal took over in 1997) and I was a player.’
Mourinho returned to Portugal to take charge of Benfica but months into the role, Robson approached him with the offer to become his assistant at Newcastle.
‘He knew my ambition wouldn’t allow me to accept an assistant coach role,’ Mourinho said in his biography. ‘He told me it would only be for a year, two tops, and that at the end of that time I would be head coach and club manager.
‘But he had forgotten that I had worked with him for many years and so I knew him well. It is unthinkable to picture him as a manager, watching from the stands.’
But Mourinho’s time at Benfica lasted a matter of months. He resigned in December 2000 after a new club president was elected and, after stating he wanted to hire an ex-player as coach, refused to offer Mourinho a new contract following a 3-0 win over Sporting Lisbon.
His next chance was at Union de Leira in July 2001, where his success caught the eye of Porto and he became head coach there in January 2002.
In 2003, Mourinho steered Porto to the league title by 11 points over former club Benfica, while also lifting the UEFA Cup after beating Celtic in the final.
But it was the following season where Mourinho truly announced himself onto the global stage, when Porto won the Champions League and eliminated Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United on the way. Victory at Old Trafford prompted his iconic touchline dash after Costinha’s 89th minute away goal.
Of course, Chelsea came next and Mourinho introduced himself as ‘The Special One’ at his opening press conference. Premier League glory duly followed, conceding just 15 goals in the process, and he successfully defended it the following season.
But in 2007, he exited the club on September 20 after a stuttering start to the Champions League and a breakdown in his relationship with owner Roman Abramovich.
By this point, Guardiola had made his first steps as a manager. He retired from playing in June 2007 and returned to Barcelona, where he had left in 2001, as coach of the B team.
So successful was his young Barcelona side that he was there only a season before replacing Frank Rijkaard as manager of the senior team in 2008 and ushering in an era of unprecedented success.
Spearheaded on the pitch by Lionel Messi, Guardiola led Barcelona to three LaLiga titles, two Champions League victories and two Copa del Reys. He first crossed paths with Mourinho in 2009, when the Portuguese was at the helm of Inter Milan.
Barcelona ran out 2-0 winners in the semi final of the Champions League that year but the following season, Inter beat them in the group stage and again in the semi-final as the Italian giants recorded a famous treble under Mourinho.
Inter lost the second leg against Barcelona 1-0 but advanced to the final 3-2 on aggregate, leaving Mourinho to hail his ‘most beautiful defeat’.
But seven months later, with Mourinho now at the helm of Real Madrid, Guardiola exacted a devastating revenge. Barcelona ran out 5-0 winners at the Nou Camp with Messi as a false nine.
Then, in 2011, with both sides reaching the Copa del Rey final while being drawn together in the Champions League, came four Clasicos in 18 days. The first was the most timid affair, a 1-1 draw in LaLiga, with Real then winning the Copa del Rey with a stoppage time header from Ronaldo. A terse Champions League semi-final saw Barcelona win 3-1 across two legs.
The most infamous clash between the two happened at the start of the 2011-12 season, during the Spanish Super Cup where the pair exchanged a cold handshake without eye contact. A brawl was sparked by a savage Marcelo tackle on Cesc Fabregas that ended with Mourinho poking Barcelona assistant manager Tito Vilanova in the eye.
That was in August 2011 and by April 2012, the pair had faced off for the final time as managers of Spain’s super clubs. Mourinho won the last duel 2-1 at the Nou Camp to end Barcelona’s 55-game unbeaten home run in what was only his third win over Guardiola.
They would meet once in the next four years – in the 2013 UEFA Super Cup final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, where both parties had taken over that summer. Bayern won 10-9 on penalties.
The next time they met, Mourinho led Manchester United and Guardiola was at the helm of Manchester City.
They locked horns on six different occasions, Guardiola winning three, Mourinho two and one draw before the Portuguese was sacked in December 2019.
Since he has been at Tottenham, they have faced off just once and it was Spurs who were successful with a 2-0 victory. And while they cannot meet again this season, should it resume following the coronavirus pandemic, the rivalry will rumble on into 2020-21.
Way back in April 2000, when they were sat side-by-side at Barcelona, who would have thought that their rivalry would become one of the fiercest of the century? There seems to be plenty more installments to follow.
Come to think of it, imagine of Mourinho could have been incharge of Tottenham Hotspurs when they dramatically knocked out Pep’s City from the UEFA Champions League last season? The jibes? The digs? The sarcasm, the chest thumping? Ooh we missed a lot.