They were the 2 best managers in the world. 2 men who had experienced unparalleled levels of success at their respective clubs. 2 men who were coveted by owners and presidents across Europe. 

It's clear that Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were, and in all likelihood still are on top of the footballing world. Listed as 2 of only 3 top managers on ESPN's 100 most influential people in football back in 2015, and even named on their greatest managers list in 2013, its clear that both coaches boast a pedigree arguably second to none in modern football. 
Yet it is hard to escape the fact that, at least in terms of silverware, they haven't returned to their very best, which was witnessed at the turn of the last decade. 

Mourinho boasts a formidable CV, including a Champions League victory at Porto and a host of domestic silverware during his first stint at Chelsea. But nothing compares to his finest achievement: an unprecedented treble with Inter Milan. The Portuguese managed to push his players to their very limits, as they defeated a revolutionary Barcelona, coached by Pep Guardiola, on their way to a fine Champions League victory. Their well documented second leg effort at the Camp Nou was hailed as one of the best defensive performances in the history of the sport. 

Ever since then, the 'Special One' has seen a modest return of 2 league titles and 2 domestic cups over the past 6 seasons. For a manager of Mourinho's caliber, this is seen as subpar. The controversial manner in which he departed his last 2 clubs also damaged his reputation, as he lost the dressing room at Real Madrid and nearly left Chelsea in the relegation zone around Christmas. 

Guardiola's peak, in terms of silverware and aesthetic, came a season after Inter's treble, when he built a Barcelona side that represented the epitome of possession football. While he won the treble in 2009, the 2011 side was far superior, and built to meet the Catalan's specific demands, only missing out on a treble by losing to Mourinho's Real Madrid in the Copa final. Ultimately, Guardiola revolutionized world football with his style, and made the sport more attacking in nature, something which has directly contributed to Mourinho's 'downfall.'

Even Pep has been criticized for his shortcomings in recent years. After an year long sabbatical in New York City, Guardiola took on the supreme challenge of improving or maintaining a treble winning Bayern Munich. An innovator, Pep definitely transformed the side and stamped his playing style, even bringing out new tactical innovations which he has taken to England. In terms of silverware, however, he failed to win the Champions League, and left large sections of Bayern fans and the media frustrated with humiliating defeats to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in consecutive seasons. 

Its clear that both managers' stocks have seen better days. Additionally, they are joined by other elite managers, who can build sides capable of challenging the very best. 

The emergence of Antonio Conte, whose physical and tactical work rivals that of both Mourinho and Guardiola, has ensured that the duo are no longer alone at the top of the managing ladder. If anything, Conte's stylistic flexibility and psychological sophistication makes him an enhanced version of the Manchester City manager. 

Similarly, the rise of Diego Simeone threatens to consign Mourinho, and even Guardiola to the past. The Argentine has the ability to defeat any side in a knockout competition- despite difficult circumstances, he has bested both managers within the past 3 seasons. He has revolutionized defensive football, essentially upgrading Mourinho's outdated schemes, and subsequently outclassing Guardiola's versatile Bayern Munich. The Atletico Madrid manager has seemingly revamped the art of defending, and halted the possession football revolution. 

What is expected of them?

In hindsight one may seem to be under more pressure than the other, but both Guardiola and Mourinho have vastly different expectations, and points to prove at their respective clubs.

Manchester United have stagnated to incredible lows after Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, and their lack of success over the past 3 seasons has largely moderated expectations. Mourinho's experience in the Premier League, and remarkable record over his first two seasons at a club, has given him the seemingly easier job. Before preseason, United fans would have taken a top 3 finish and decent cup runs, although their fantastic transfer window and perfect start to the season have  reignited hopes for a title challenge. 

Guardiola, on the other hand, has to take Manchester City to the next level in Europe. Much like at his previous club Bayern Munich, the Catalan is expected to win the Champions League. That Pellegrini's underperforming side reached the semifinals only adds to expectations, and unlike Munich, Pep must lead his side to far from ascertained domestic glory. 

Which leads us our next point-

What do they have to prove?

Mourinho, quite simply, has to prove that his career is not on a downward spiral. Even with a manager who seems to drain his players within 18-24 months, it's hard to fully understand Chelsea's capitulation last season. A group of genuinely talented players rarely underperform to this extent- even at the collective level. If Mourinho's powers are on the wane, then this may be one of his last stints at a top club. 

Guardiola has to prove that he can perform in England (although a perfect start has alleviated questions about his adaptability). More importantly, Guardiola has to prove that his possession football can survive the tenacity of the Premier League, without the superstars of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Pep also has a point to prove in the Champions League, where he consistently failed to cross the semi-final stage, and suffered plenty of away defeats. 

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The challenge for Pep is fashioning a side stronger than his Bayern Munich. The German Giants were fantastic last season, and nearly crossed the line in a thrilling second leg against Atletico Madrid. Indeed, the Bavarians were among the most versatile teams in the world on the ball- with ball playing, supreme center backs, wingers boasting flair, the unique Thomas Muller, and a well rounded midfield unit.  Even Germany were inspired by Pep Guardiola, as seen in their semifinal game against France, in which they displayed his innovative back 3 on the ball. 

But Guardiola's underachievement with a talented group of players, and Mourinho's fall at Chelsea, seem to hide the fact that it's hard to objectively judge their most recent spells.

The Lack of Complete Control

It's clearly hard to judge them both after largely contrasting yet transitional shifts at Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Chelsea was Mourinho's return to England, although he didn't quite land the United job he coveted. The Portugese rebuilt an aging Chelsea side into one that easily won the Premier League, despite a net spend of only 50 million pounds. Impressive, but also revealing of the budgetary constraints under which he was operating. The new Chelsea was easily the most imbalanced of Mourinho's teams- as he fielded the destroyer Nemanja Matic alongside the defensively deficient Cesc Fabregas, patched together an aging defense after failing to land Luke Shaw, and lacked a truly creative number ten in the caliber of Mesut Ozil or Wesley Sneijder. 

The Blues easily won two domestic titles during his second season in charge, but only after a strange season in which they continuously retreated into their defensive shell after a strong start. The defeat to PSG in the Champions League also proved that the Matic-Fabregas pivot was unsustainable; Mourinho couldn't field them at the heart of midfield against the best teams,  while Fabregas struggled to influence the game further up the field. 

Of course, what followed their relatively successful season was a summer of uncertainty. Mourinho wanted a more all-action midfielder to supplement Matic, specifically requesting Koke or Pogba, and generally demanded recruitments across the board. Chelsea's bids for these players were all duly rejected as the first signs of the inflated market surfaced. In the end Mourinho was left with Pedro, Baba Rahman, Papi Dtjiloubodi, and a misfiring Radamel Falcao. Coupled with a poor preseason, they collapsed. 

It's safe to say that Jose struggled to build a team in his vision when it was designed to attract his footballing antithesis- Pep Guardiola. Chelsea were a mess because they failed to grant Mourinho all his top transfer targets, and he was forced to train a squad of players ill-suited to his pragmatic methods. 

Pep Guardiola also fell into a 'trap' at Bayern Munich, as he struggled to overhaul the club to fit his image. Guardiola fell out with the club's long serving medical staff, clashed with the club's hierarchy in the media, and was not allowed to land a high profile transfer target in Neymar. He had no choice but to adapt his system to Robert Lewandowski, and lost the vital Toni Kroos to Real Madrid just an year into his tenure. Clearly, his relationship with the Munich club was strained. Mourinho at Real Madrid, anyone?

The presence of the Bayern Munich mole further enhances the argument that Guardiola's tenure was strained like Jose's in Madrid. In the latter's case, a certain player leaked Mourinho's clasico plans hours before the game, removing the element of surprise which was Pepe playing in midfield. The Portuguese felt betrayed, and eventually took revenge by isolating Iker Casillas, who never truly bought into his methods. Pep, in a nearly identical situation, saw his plans to play a back 3 against Borussia Dortmund leaked to the media by a mysterious 'mole.' The mole also revealed the Catalan's disciplining of Toni Kroos and Mario Mandzukic, his frustration with the medical staff, and his desire for control of the player's movements. Eventually, Guardiola succumbed to the mole, and seemed happy to be done with a club which didn't appreciate what he had done for it.

For all the criticisms leveled at Mourinho, he did ultimately return Real Madrid to the top level of European football by reaching 3 straight Champions League semifinals (which they failed to reach for many years prior), and managed to defeat a revolutionary Barcelona (and drive away Pep Guardiola) to the La Liga title. 

Pep also provided a level of day to day work which could not be appreciated by a club fresh off a treble. His tactical innovations, such as the inverted full back, and his development of Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer into 2 of the best in the world in their positions, are achievements which he is given too little credit for. Perhaps Guardiola's idealism, and his inability to empirically improve upon Heynckes' pragmatic and ruthless football, is what led to his isolation among the Bayern fan base. 

The Manchester City manager also chose a very challenging task in taking over a club that had won a treble. It wasn't hard to see, especially with the stories surfacing that Bayern had adopted Jurgen Klopp's gegenpressing, that the side Guardiola would take over was very strong already.  But the treble ensured that everyday, Guardiola had to work on the training ground in fear, afraid that his players will get complacent and play below their standards. Keeping with the theme of his 4th year at Barca, but far from ideal, especially considering all the resistance he met over the course of his spell. Guardiola was never going to be given full fledged backing by a club that had just won the treble. 

Marriages of Convenience, and Full Autonomy

Circumstances dictated that Mourinho would spectacularly collapse and Guardiola would be let down in 3 consecutive matches against the super powers of Spanish football, and now both coaches have went a remarkable 5 and 6 years respectively without winning the Champions League. More importantly, they have went a similar amount of years without coaching sides truly built in their singular vision.

Now into new jobs just across town, Mourinho and Guardiola have finally been given full control over their sides just as they had been during their earlier reigns. If anything, the Portuguese has been given more backing to change the side at United then he ever has in his career- as seen in the signing of Paul Pogba for a world record fee, the 35 year old Ibrahimovic for high wages, and the Bundesliga Player of the Year.  That too after the Old Trafford hierarchy spent 250 million euros over 2 seasons on a listless Louis Van Gaal. Pep has world class facilities at his disposal, and will be glad to see the preparations made by the City administration in an attempt to court him.

It's clear that the duo have positioned themselves at clubs where they will no longer be denied full, obsessive control. Indeed, City couldn't have picked a better manager to play aesthetic football and take them to a new level. United chose their last hope, the only reliable option when they were in dire straits themselves. 

A quick look at transfer spending in millions of pounds itself speaks volumes, City 165, United 157. Even the timing of certain announcements bear striking similarity- as soon as Pogba's transfer was announced by United, City released a statement confirming the capture of John Stones from Everton. 

Furthermore, Mourinho has captured the kind of all-action midfielder he was denied at Chelsea. Given a choice as he is now, it's unlikely that he will build a midfield that relies on pairing players like Fabregas and Matic ever again- even though that combination dominated the league for half a season. In other words, Mourinho won't be forced into adapting with the wrong players, and will play with sides that fully submit to his philosophy. Inter Milan 2008-10 come to mind. 

Similarly, Guardiola has also signed a player who would have been unattainable at Bayern Munich in Gabriel Jesus. The Bavarians famously refused to buy Neymar from Santos (although Barcelona were likely favorites regardless) because of their troubled experiences with South Americans. Pep settled for Gotze instead, who has now returned to Dortmund after 3 failed years in Munich, while Neymar won the treble in 2015 and is constantly improving alongside Messi and Suarez. Pep is no longer shackled by the reluctance of a stubborn institution, he has the license to build the best side he possibly can. 

While they may have contrasting beliefs on the game, there is no doubt that they can win silverware with teams built in their vision. 

Both have already faced small challenges to their authority- Mourinho with Schweinsteiger and youth, Guardiola with Joe Hart. But the players themselves were disillusioned with the World Cup winner Schweinsteiger's behavior during his recovery, and Claudio Bravo is an excellent replacement for Joe Hart. The fans will be onboard, especially as results stay positive and performances improve.

Make no mistake- Mourinho and Guardiola are finally at clubs which will support them with no holds barred. 

Especially because of the crosstown rivals waiting to capitalize if they don't.


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Published by Siddharth Ramsundar