Jose Mourinho kept his pre-match media duties to a minimum yesterday. He did not want to discuss Manchester City’s stunning collapse against Liverpool in the Champions League. Nor the sizeable gulf between Manchester United and their great rivals. Nor the fact City can win the title against them; that niggling, nagging annoyance he cannot avoid.
Mourinho spent 13 minutes on a long, winding rant answering a single question in a recent press conference, yet his entire offering lasted less time in an awkward occasion he would rather not have to endure. Can you blame him?
It is a position no manager, least of all one at Manchester United, wants to be in: travelling to your biggest rivals knowing they can clinch the Premier League title against you. That the best you can hope for is delaying the inevitable by a week or two.
It is like waking up in the morning on your sibling’s birthday when you’re 12-years-old and walking into the living room to watch them open the presents. They and everyone else are super excited about the big day but you have to hide the fact you really wish it was you there tearing open the wrapping paper. United holding up City today will be the tiny side-present your parents gave you to take the edge off.
Ten miles away, Pep Guardiola was in more of a talkative, open mood (as you would be if you had all those presents in front of you), slipping into proceedings the revelation that Paul Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola – with whom he does not get on – offered City his client in January. Remarkable timing to let off that bombshell.
Pogba is one of the few United players who would get in this City side and to think what the Guardiola Effect could do for him. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Leroy Sane have all tapped on the five-star rating icon and left exceptional reviews. Fresh from niggling at United by explaining that City would field a weakened team against their rivals to focus on the Champions League quarter-final legs either side, as though they were no more than a minor irritant amidst a backdrop of bigger things, Guardiola continued to nibble away by suggesting that winning the title against Queens Park Rangers in 2012 was more special than the prospect of doing so against Mourinho’s team.
“Nothing can compare,” Guardiola said. “Nothing can compare to win in the last minute, the last second, the last chance. He touches the ball, Balotelli, go to Sergio, score the other one when 1-2 down in nothing, then 2-2, 3-2 in two or three minutes in the first Premier League title since 44 years. You cannot compare with that. So, now, if against United win, or Tottenham win, or Swansea, the other ones, we will be so happy. Football is emotion. And emotion is when something unexpected in the last seconds, when the time is over, the time is finishing. Go here or go to the Man United side with Alex Ferguson and win that, no way. Nothing what happens in that club will be more exciting than what happened with the Aguero goal.”
Humbler, and a better manager than Mourinho. This must be galling for the Portuguese. And explains why he said so little. Mourinho clung, yesterday, to the prospect of finishing second. He was well-versed in the permutations of fourth through to second and clear on the desire to conclude the season in the position they have held for the majority of it; behind Guardiola. For as long as Guardiola remains in the Premier League, Mourinho may have to get used to being a specialist in failure.