The Iberian doctrine of coaching

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Two young coaches, relatively speaking, sit atop the dais in deep reflection at the magnitude of their accomplishments.  José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are the new breed of coach – highly detailed, indisputably passionate and obsessed with perfection.  Both have basked in glory yet they come from completely contrasting ideological and philosophical perspectives.

Mourinho, a Portuguese demigod to his disciples, has been the centre of attention in European football since he dumped Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United out of the UEFA Champions League on his way to lifting the trophy with FC Porto in 2004.  The power of language has not been lost on the self-proclaimed “Special One,” indeed his press conferences have been more like epic sermons for the media circus to worship.  His ability to engage and entertain draws comparison to great theatre.  Mourinho is the writer, actor and critic of his own play.  Now more than ever at Real Madrid.

In Guardiola we see a humble being, a Catalan with prodigious personality.  A man on a mission to maintain his ethics no matter what the outcome.  He believes in a system of play that incorporates every player with a common goal and that is, to create.  The defining element in modern football is creativity because it’s the one aspect in which a coach can choose to embrace or control.  Guardiola has embraced it, season-after-season on his way to three domestic league titles, and two Champions League honours in three seasons with Barcelona.

Both coaches will never be unemployed again, unless by choice.  Their list of achievements are long and enviable.  Mourinho and Guardiola have immense interpersonal skills.  To manage multimillion-dollar superstars and their egos requires more than intrinsic motivation.  They must (and have) challenged, sculpted and lead their players resolutely with arrant trust and honesty.

Perhaps the polarity between Mourinho and Guardiola was discovered during last season’s El Clásico battles.  The first was a 5-nil exhibition by Barcelona.  In an interview with El País, former Argentina World Cup winner and Barcelona boss, César Luis Menotti provided his thoughts on the competing ideologies.

“The 5-0 Clásico at the Camp Nou is for the rest of his [Guardiola] life.  I try to think and cannot come up with a game like that one – that I’ve seen or participated in. He conquered Mourinho for the rest of his life.”

Even so, revenge was brewing.  The two Spanish clubs met four times in 18 days between April and May – League, Copa del Rey Final and two Semi-Final legs of the Champions League.  A 1-1 draw, 1-0 Madrid victory in extra-time in the Cup, and 3-1 aggregate triumph for Barcelona in Europe showcased the beautiful game in spectacular drama.

The key difference between Madrid and Barcelona was not the players’ ability and perhaps a surprise to many, not the way the two sides train.  According to Menotti, “They do not train so differently, that what they do is very similar.  [Mourinho] trains very well.  Conceptually, they are very similar.  But on the field, at the hour of truth, they have nothing in common.”

Madrid under Mourinho have played with two defensive midfielders and hit on the counter-attack.  To be fair, for a side which has received much criticism for their style, they were the League’s top goal-scorers with 102 goals.  That was seven more than Barcelona.

When comparing the two coaches, how can it be done objectively?  They are two different men coming from two very different footballing experiences.  Mourinho is highly sought after for his methods, his neurotic sensibility.  He’s a winner, a problem-solver employed to do just that.  He is flawless when it comes to building a bunker mentality – it’s “us” vs. “them” and they hate you, and not just you but everything about you.

Guardiola appears to be more concerned with letting the football provide the answers.  He can always brag that he played the game at the highest level and under the tutelage of a visionary, Johan Cruyff.  It’s under Cruyff where he perfected the art of what’s referred to as, “Tiki-taka” a progressive form of Total Football.

It’s essentially a style of play in which well-timed short passing and movement is maintained whilst in possession, moving the ball through midfield in intricate patterns of one and two-touch passing.  Every player knows his role and the aim is to allow flair, creativity and expression.  This system allowed Barcelona to play Madrid off the park.

Is it just to criticise Mourinho for his approach to football?  He’s employed to win.

Is Guardiola merely implementing a system he was taught as a player?  Does he have to achieve the same success at another club in order to prove he made this current Barcelona side arguably the greatest in history?

What makes a good coach?  Ask a fan of a struggling club anywhere in the world, who would you prefer to lead your team, Mourinho or Guardiola?

The answer is not in the football.