Roy Curtis: Poisonous history of Jose and Pep sets up blockbuster Manchester derby
IT CAN hardly pass without football’s twin King Cobras spitting their toxins across the Manchester heavens.
Long before Saturday comes, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will likely render the Premier League’s reawakening first city a seething cockpit of venomous strife.
The relationship between the world’s most lavishly remunerated managers is one of fire and gasoline.
Scorch marks and scar tissue from their 16 previous conflagrations abound.
“In the press-room, he is el puto jefe (the big f***ing” chief) and the one who knows more than anyone else,” was one dripping-with-scorn Guardiola portrayal of Mourinho.
The Portuguese alley-cat lunged with an equally disdainful counter-thrust, one that credited Pep’s glories as being less about a superior intellect than a genius for the dark arts.
“I hope one day Josep Guardiola has a chance to win a clean championship without scandal,” he sneered.
Their poisonous back catalogue suggests an invective-laden road to Saturday’s latest skirmish, all the sound, fury and indiscriminate coarseness of a Donald Trump hustings sound bite.
Nuclear meltdown was so frequently a by-product of their El Clasico confrontations that the hawkers on Sir Matt Busby Way might consider adding radiation suits to their wares.
Five times in a row Mourinho teams had a player sent off against opposition led by Guardiola.
Once, rampaging manically like a wounded bull, the now Man United manager poked his finger in the eye of Guardiola’s late assistant at Barca, Tito Vilanova.
If Man City’s leader is presented as a haloed white knight in comparison, he too can resort to low blows.
Guardiola even ironically mocked his clean cut image: “Maybe I’m all grown up and piss cologne.”
But with that “he’s the f***ing chief, the f***ing man” comment he hosed Mourinho in something less fragrant.
If the Pep-Jose relationship is toxic, it is equally compelling, alternatively tawdry and sophisticated – and never less than box-office gold.
Part of it – engaging baser human instincts – is watching these technical area heavyweights rummage around the garbage cans for a yet grubbier gunk and slime putdown.
The more highbrow appeal is that of two grandmasters gathering around a lush, green chessboard. Their pre-eminence, ability to conjure up magic, to shape and create winning teams is unrivalled.
It is why even the glitter of Pogba and Ibrahimovic, the stardust provided by Silva and Nolito, will not be the story when United and City collide next weekend.
When the flashbulbs detonate, when Sky’s cameras choose their targets, when 75,000 pairs of eyes adjust their sights, there will be but two suited titans in the cross hairs.
Saturday lunchtime offers the Premier League premiere of the Pep and Jose show.
Synapses twitching furiously, dipping deep into their well of tactical genius, the planet’s foremost coaches – their CVs weighed down with a combined 43 trophies – will go to war.
The draining imperative to win, the unleashing of all those Alpha-male obsessions and thinly-disguised insecurities will make Manchester the epicentre of the football universe.
Guardiola and Mourinho are custodians of three-year contracts which, combined, are worth more than £86m.
In return for such a sumptuous investment, the planet demands extravagant servings of both football and soap opera, sport and anarchy, wisdom and adolescence.
Their fear and loathing roadshow has drenched stellar football cities – Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Munich and London – in a high-grade tide of brilliance and enmity.
Now, Manchester basks in the flaming glow of their mutual dislike, a bilateral disagreement of towering intellects.
Over this decade-long rumble in football’s jungle, Guardiola has landed the more telling punches.
The Spaniard has lost just three of their 16 managerial prize-fights, a record that insults Mourinho’s ego.
Still, he too has significant notches on his belt.
In 2010 – the same year Mourinho awarded himself “11 out of 10” for his achievements – his Internazionale broke Barca’s grip on the Champions League.
Two years later, he not only loosened the iron Messi-Xavi-Iniesta grip on La Liga, he did so scoring a record 121 goals and accruing the most points (100) in any of the top European leagues.
Yet, where he could lash out at Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez from a position of superior accomplishment, his head-to-head record with Guardiola is hardly a special one.
There was a 5-0 loss in his first Clasico, one that seemed to fracture Mourinho’s sanity.
From a bulging back catalogue of noxious, scattergun, serotonin-laden one-liners, some of the Portuguese’s most pernicious insults have been reserved for Guardiola.
Infamously, in 2011, after Madrid were evicted from the Champions League by Barcelona, he railed, crazed by his ow impotence, against Guardiola and his team.
Mourinho’s repeatedly ventilated conspiracy theory was that UEFA, the Spanish FA, referees and media were all part of some seditious mischief to bring glory to the Camp Nou.
“I don’t know if it is the UNICEF sponsorship, I don’t understand. They have the power and we have no chance. They have to get to the final and they’ll get there, full stop.
“I have won two Champions League and he has won one (Guardiola would later win a second) – and that is one that would embarrass me.
“I would be ashamed to have won with the scandal of Stamford Bridge. If he wins this year, it will be with the scandal of the Bernabeu.”
Guardiola felt no urge to accept his rival’s wild, blood-boiled lunges. Instead he mocked Mourinho, plunged the sword between the eyes of the wounded bull.
Essentially he lampooned the Real Madrid superintendent’s inability to walk the walk.
“He’s been winning off the pitch all season. Let them give him a Champions League for it so he can enjoy it and take it home.”
Both men have made flawless starts to their new lives: Six league wins from six, 13 goals scored, three conceded.
But that is not what will concern Mourinho this week. He remembers in the way that might make an elephant seem absent-minded.
He will remember how he was second best in Spain, remember the mocking slights and remember the words with which Alex Ferguson set out to take down Liverpool.
Mourinho will arrive at Old Trafford on Saturday with just one aim: To knock his most bitter rival off his f***ing perch.