Pep Guardiola knew the question was coming and when Jose Mourinho’s name was mentioned in his first news conference as Manchester City manager on Friday it was patted away nonchalantly.
“It is not about him or me,” the Spaniard said, echoing Mourinho’s comments across the city at Manchester United three days earlier.
The thing is that in many ways it IS about the pair, or it will be when their teams clash in a pre-season friendly in China on July 26 and for a Premier League derby on September 10.
The global appeal of the Premier League sometimes lies in its emotional story lines.
So Guardiola and Mourinho, who clashed repeatedly in their time at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, will find it almost impossible to distance themselves from their past rivalry.
Although there were signs of simmering resentment against Barcelona when Mourinho was at Inter Milan, boiling point was reached when he moved to Spain as a direct rival to Guardiola in 2010.
As the Portuguese chased down Barca, the pair regularly traded insults with the-then Real boss even questioning the integrity of officials after having a player sent off for the fifth consecutive game against a Guardiola side.
The animosity continued until the end of 2012 when Mourinho won La Liga and Guardiola left Barca.
“It’s his life but for me it’s unthinkable to take a sabbatical,” was Mourinho’s reaction. “He is younger than me but I’m not tired.”
Statistics suggest the Spaniard has the upper hand, with seven wins to Mourinho’s three from their 16 meetings. However, the lessons from La Liga are that United’s new manager knows how to rile his opponent.
Mourinho particularly resents the suggestion Guardiola’s teams play in an attractive style while he produces more functional sides.
Such stereotypes were reinforced this week as the Portuguese spent much of Tuesday’s news conference defining himself as a serial winner while Guardiola talked on Friday about encouraging City to play ‘the beautiful game’.
The Spaniard perhaps appeared less assured than former Chelsea boss Mourinho, understandable given that the City job is his first in the Premier League.
But there was also a clear desire to prove his worth on another stage. Mourinho, too, has doubters to silence after being sacked by Chelsea in December.
In one of the few lighter moments at United on Tuesday, he said former Old Trafford manager Alex Ferguson had urged him to bring the Scot’s favourite bottle of wine for them to share.
No one asked Mourinho whether he would extend his hospitality to Guardiola, probably because everyone suspected they knew the answer.
Support InfoStride News' Credible Journalism: Only credible journalism can guarantee a fair, accountable and transparent society, including democracy and government. It involves a lot of efforts and money. We need your support. Click here to Donate