Pep & Jose Chronicles Chapter 1

The World Looks to Manchester

By Andy Mitten


Bleacher Report

"Is it really you?" seven-year-old Braydon Bent asked Pep Guardiola in the back of a Manchester black cab.

It was. The young fan thought he was being taken to Manchester City's training ground as part of a competition prize, but there was another, completely unexpected passenger along for the ride: the club's revered new manager.

"I told Mr. Guardiola to beware of the weather and he said that he'd heard it rains a lot," Braydon says. "I told him that we were going to win all the trophies and wondered where we'd put them all. And I asked him to sign Messi but he told me it would be difficult."

It was best day of a young boy's life and a marketing masterstroke, designed to soften Guardiola's rather austere image. Ferran Soriano, a fellow Catalan who headed the airline Spanair before becoming general manager at FC Barcelona and then CEO of City, understands how important image can be.

He knew, too, that all eyes would be on Manchester this season, not only because City had appointed Guardiola, but also because United had employed his nemesis, Jose Mourinho. Both coaches are serial winners and are regarded among the best in world football, but their images could not be more different. 

Guardiola is viewed as tense, controlled, a football obsessive—a principled purist who does things his way or no way. Zlatan Ibrahimovic described him as Mourinho's opposite, saying, "If Mourinho brightens up the room, Guardiola pulls down the curtains."

Even at Bayern Munich, where he won the Bundesliga three years in succession, Guardiola was admired rather than loved. His successor, Carlo Ancelotti, was quickly praised for being more relaxed. German newspaper Sport Bild published "11 Ancelotti secrets," including "different approaches, different tactics, cigarettes and red wine," while describing the Italian's more flexible football style as making him the "anti-Pep."

'More than a City, More than an Ego' by Micah Purnell.

The man from rural Catalonia also has his advocates—friends who say that the man portrayed in the media is not the man they know.

"The public image is not what the players see," explains former player Eric Abidal. "He wants players to do things his way, he's quite insistent about that, but his way is successful. When he started at Barca (with the first team in 2008), Pep faced egos and resistance to change.

"We lost our first game at Numancia and drew the second at home to Racing Santander. He called a meeting and said, 'Look, guys, we worked hard in the pre-season but you have to believe in my plan if you want to win LaLiga and the Champions League.' From that moment, the players played like Guardiola wanted."

Guardiola is viewed as tense, controlled, a football obsessive—a principled purist who does things his way or no way.

The same contrast exists between the public image of Mourinho and man behind the curtain. Maybe he's not the strong, arrogant and sometimes over-emotional man you think he is.

"Jose's a great man, a humble man, a gentle man," says Benni McCarthy, who played for Porto under Mourinho. "He's not lost those qualities; they've helped make him successful. The man you see in the media is a completely different person from the guy I worked with and know. He's the best thing that could have happened to Manchester United right now. He's the man to make United great again after Sir Alex Ferguson, the man to bring miracles to the team."

Abidal and McCarthy, who won Champions League titles under Pep and Jose, respectively, tell similar stories of managers who worked eight until eight at the training ground. Different as they are, Guardiola and Mourinho share the same insatiable drive.

On a sunny day in Manchester, gathered fans—and two million watching via City's YouTube channel—saw a smiling Pep utterly charmed by the seven-year-old's invitation for tea because he didn't think he had any friends in Manchester.

Guardiola accepted and asked Braydon for his father's phone number.

Jose Mourinho walked down an aisle of the Aeroflot plane provided by Manchester United's official carrier, one of eight global partners on the club's roster. 

He had every reason to feel satisfied. At last, he was United boss, a job he'd long coveted. He wanted it in 2013 but was overlooked in favour of David Moyes. After being dismissed by Chelsea in late 2015, Mourinho became even more determined to get the job at Old Trafford—for it would also provide him with an opportunity for revenge.

Mourinho is a collector who likes to win at the biggest clubs. He's done that in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. He wanted the Barcelona job in 2008 and presented his ideas to the Camp Nou board, but club president Joan Laporta pushed instead for the B team boss and club legend Guardiola.

Guardiola won every trophy possible in his first season as his side were crowned Spanish, European and then world champions. Mourinho went to Inter Milan and knocked holders Barca out of the Champions League in 2010 on the way to winning Europe's top honour in a Madrid final against Bayern Munich. He was soon in charge at the Bernabeu.

By early 2016, United had made contact. Barely a month after describing Louis van Gaal as a genius to journalists in a Manchester pub, United's executive vice chairman Ed Woodward had become alarmed as United went eight games without victory in December 2015. The Dutchman lost the support of the majority of fans and never regained it.

United's contact with Mourinho's agent, Jorge Mendes, was irregular. That changed when it became clear that Van Gaal, despite the wishes of many club insiders, couldn't turn things around by winning the Europa League and FA Cup and finish in the top four.

'Eye on the Ball' by Mike Chavez-Dawson.

United knew Guardiola was going to City as far back as mid-2015. They couldn't prove it, but they knew efforts to line him up as Van Gaal's replacement were futile.

Guardiola had turned City down once and went to Bayern Munich in 2013. He wasn't going to do it again. United were irked by reports that they'd not considered Guardiola in early 2016, as his mind was already made up to choose blue over red. United would target a strong opponent instead.

By the spring of 2016, Woodward felt he had a choice between assistant manager Ryan Giggs and Mourinho. Giggs thought he would get the job. Woodward knew they were opposites in many ways, that both had qualities. When Giggs suspected United were talking to Mourinho, his trust began to wane. All along Mourinho was a clear favourite with United fans.

Giggs never got a call from Mourinho, who had no intention of making him his assistant.

On the plane to China, Mourinho's players were in business class at the front of the plane and were expected to rest during the 12-hour flight across eight time zones. Mourinho relinquished his own seat to accommodate a player who had ended up in economy, where over 70 United staff were sitting. There were employees from the club's marketing, commercial and media departments, plus staff attached to the football side: kitmen, physios, masseurs and sports scientists. 

United knew Guardiola was going to City as far back as mid-2015. They couldn't prove it, but they knew efforts to line him up as Van Gaal's replacement were futile.

Mourinho showed he could launch a charm offensive to match Guardiola's, making it his business to personally greet each of them. He knew they knew his name, but every member of staff introduced themselves to the new United manager who smiled and said hello.

United's most legendary managers, Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby, would learn the names of everybody working at United. Busby even remembered their favourite drink. But both would be hard-pushed to repeat that feat now.

United have grown exponentially to a company that now employs over 500 full-time staff, most of them based at Old Trafford or an office in London's Mayfair. Significantly, Mourinho signed his contract in the London office rather than Old Trafford. As did Paul Pogba.

'Use Hearing Protection' by Bandit Nanna.

Mourinho limits the number of people he sees in order to concentrate on the priority of managing a football team, but his actions created a positive first impression as the United plane headed east. He wouldn't have chosen to take a team to China, but, like Guardiola, he understands the commercial benefits for a club like United to play in the world's second-largest economy.

Football is booming in China, and both Manchester clubs want to be part of it. United already have an auxiliary office in Hong Kong.

United and City were set to meet for the first time outside England, but the eight-day tour did not go to plan. The oppressive heat and humidity made life difficult, and Mourinho grew increasingly exasperated. He made his feeling clear to club officials, but some matters were out of their hands. Inclement weather meant a plane carrying players and staff from Shanghai to Beijing had to make an emergency landing in Tianjin, with half of Mourinho's players only arriving at the team hotel at 1 a.m.

To protect the pitch, training at Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium was cancelled the day before the derby and shifted to an adjacent stadium where a planned press conference was moved outside because the intended room was so hot. Mourinho stood pitch-side in the rain answering banal questions from the Chinese journalists at the front of the media scrum. Asked about Guardiola, he was complimentary.

The following morning, the game was cancelled, with both clubs worried about the state of the pitch following a period of heavy rain which saw floods in Beijing. 

Conveniently, some potential blushes were spared. City officials were worried that the stadium would be a sea of red and concerned that the United fan zone, where fans were to gather pre-match outside the 80,000-seater stadium, was three times the size of the City one. They had the idea of handing out blue T-shirts to boost the City presence, but the cancellation sorted that problem out for them.

Mourinho considered China a week of pre-season lost, but at least he was being kept up to date with developments regarding the possible world-record transfer of Pogba. Woodward didn't fly out with the team to Shanghai but instead went to Florida—not to meet United's owners, the Glazers, who live there, but rather with the holidaying Pogba and his agent, Mino Raiola.

Woodward finally joined up with United in Beijing to see a game that didn't take place. He tripped up in the reception of United's hotel and the watching United legend Paddy Crerand shouted, "Penalty!" Woodward merely smiled; for a change, on his watch, United's close-season transfer window was generally considered to have gone well.

With the game cancelled, United allowed players to do media interviews. New Ivorian defender Eric Bailly spoke to the British Sunday papers, where he claimed that he had a choice between United and City and that both had contacted him to show firm interest. Upon publication, City denied this. In football, face-saving is paramount.

United returned to Manchester, happy with a successful kit launch if not the football. City also launched one of their new kits on the Great Wall of China.

'One Evening Before the Start of the Season' by Stephen Campbell.

Riccardo Stagliano sheltered from the August drizzle in a glass-fronted coffee chain on Manchester's Piccadilly Station approach.

The rougher end of Manchester's city centre has been smartened up in the last 15 years, but discount shops, pubs and bookmakers still proliferate among the new four-star hotels, trees and paving.

The veteran writer, who seldom covers sports, was sent by la Repubblica, the Rome-based newspaper whose weekly magazine supplement is the most widely read in Italy with a readership of two million. He was in the city for the first time to write a magazine cover feature about football in Manchester.

"I'm here because of the duel between these two larger-than-life characters, Mourinho and Guardiola," explains Stagliano. "Neither of them are Italian, but there is an epic struggle between them, a tension which we saw when they were at Madrid and Barcelona. Mourinho is a star in his own right, a global brand like Coca-Cola or Google. He is very media-savvy, he's made TV commercials. He's become a character from beyond football, where Guardiola is still inside the world of football.

It was Stagliano's first time in Manchester and he was enthralled.

"It's a city which identifies with football. It seems like it's the epicentre of European and indeed world football right now. It's surprising. How can such a city, which is a big city but nowhere near as big as London or Paris, have such an intensity of superteams? I'm here to find out why. Maybe it's a continuation of football being a pastime for the working class, the factory workers who needed a reason to work hard and have some fun on Saturday afternoon."

If Manchester's weather was true to stereotype, the city was not.

"Compared to Italy, it's interesting to see how civilised the football supporters are in England. In Italy, there is violence close to football. People have been killed and stabbed. Italian cities are owned by hooligans when there is a big game like the Rome derby; they have too much power. We haven't found a way to handle the hooligans like in England. In Old Trafford, there were less than 100 arrests last season, a tiny figure."

La Repubblica is not the only European publication with an eye on Manchester this season. Many of the continent's leading quality newspapers have sent a correspondent to the city this summer, with the emphasis on in-depth features rather than football news. They sent their finest writers or the ones with the best contacts. Why, they wanted to know, were two of the planet's biggest and richest clubs from a provincial city in England's north?

'Star & Garter' by Rebecca Rogers.

Lu Martin was sent by El Pais in Spain. The Catalan is friends with Guardiola and also knows Mourinho from his time working at FC Barcelona. Barca sent Mourinho to scout opponents and Martin would travel with him to cities including Belgrade, where they'd spent time together.

In Serbia, their car got a flat tyre. Martin and his photographer didn't know how to change it. Mourinho, who felt it was a scam to unnerve them by their hosts, did. The journalists who knew Mourinho well at Barca said he was intelligent and sociable.

Martin will be a frequent visitor to Manchester this season. In his first dispatch, he visited the independent record stores of the city's northern quarter and also saw both bosses. Neither is currently giving out one-on-one, in-depth interviews beyond what each is contracted to do with rights holders, while eyebrows were raised among Catalan journalists when such a proud Catalan refused to answer questions in his native tongue. Guardiola does this out of respect to the countries where he works, speaking German in Germany and English in England.

Guardiola's media tactic of doing no in-depth, one-on-one interviews comes from one of his mentors, the Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa.

"It's a city which identifies with football. It seems like it's the epicentre of European and indeed world football right now."

Riccardo Stagliano

Current Barca boss Luis Enrique has followed suit, his theory being that if he's seen to favour one publication, then it will antagonise another. Guardiola and Mourinho are thus happier speaking to all the assembled press at once, where they seldom drop their guard. Yet behind the scenes they have maintained close relationships with some journalists, and Guardiola made some private time for Martin.

"Pep's really enjoying Manchester," Martin revealed. "He thinks it's a city addicted to football, which he likes because he's also addicted to football. He's happy with the players, with the club. His first impressions have been very positive."

Results were positive too, with City's style praised as they defeated Sunderland, Stoke City and West Ham in their first three Premier League games. Guardiola may have irked football's hipsters when he shaved off his beard in August, though he still struck a chord with football casuals by wearing the sweaters and coats of Italian company Stone Island, who've long been popular in England.

As well as getting City to play to his style, Guardiola has made other, more subtle changes. One such is trusting players to stay at home rather than a hotel before home matches, a change he made at Barcelona so that players could spend more time with their families. 

His own family have moved into an apartment overlooking the River Irwell and Manchester City Centre, just a stone's throw from where the United team meet up the day before games in the five-star Lowry Hotel.

Guardiola on the touchline during Manchester City's Premier League clash with Sunderland in August.

Mourinho started life in Manchester living at the Lowry, a hotel he favoured when he brought Chelsea north to play in and around Manchester, though he's planning to live in the usual footballer belt of north Cheshire when the property he's identified is ready.

El Pais wouldn't normally write about Manchester any more than they'd write about cities of a similar status including Oslo, Brisbane, Vancouver or Madras, but the appointments of Mourinho and Guardiola changed things and there remains strong interest from Spain, where the antagonistic rivalry between the pair captivated—and sometimes appalled—the country.

In Spain, Catalans tend to favour their own: Josep, as he is referred to in the more serious Catalan papers. "I like Man United," says Barca season ticket holder Jordi Camps, a man who speaks English with a Mancunian accent having spent so much of his youth in the city he adored for its music and football culture. "But Pep comes first, especially when he's up against Mourinho."

"He thinks it's a city addicted to football, which he likes because he's also addicted to football."

Spanish journalist Lu Martin on Guardiola.

City already had strong Catalan links with Soriano and other senior Catalan officials working in Manchester.

They're often seen on the low-cost airlines that link Manchester and Barcelona, airlines well-used by the raucous British stag and hen parties which visit Barcelona in their hundreds. Soriano was on a plane from Manchester to Barcelona after the previous Manchester derby in April 2016, when he was reminded by his fellow travellers how great it was that the game had been settled by a United-supporting Mancunian, Marcus Rashford, who scored in his first Manchester derby.

Second-tier Girona FC, who narrowly missed out on a first promotion to LaLiga last season, trained at City in July, and supporters who bought their season tickets were entered into a competition to watch City's first Premier League game against Sunderland.

In his first dispatch, Martin wrote of a city "capitalising on hope, betting on illusion and investment," but was not entirely complimentary. "Not everything is rosy, even if it is a gay capital," he continued. "Manchester has the worst teeth in the country and the largest percentage of preventable deaths. But if you look at the soccer, the world is envious...

"The world looks to Mou and Pep," he concluded. "The world looks to Manchester."

Jose Mourinho pictured at Old Trafford before Manchester United's Premier League game against Southampton.

Mark Bent is 43 and has watched City home and away since childhood, growing up in Davyhulme, a predominantly United-supporting area three miles to the west of Old Trafford.

Mark went to Gillingham and Colchester when City were in England's third tier the year United won the treble; he went to every European away game when City climbed back to the top. He never gloated, never talked ill of United, never became bitter. Mark Bent just supported his team, Manchester City.

He saw downs and the odd up, watched City play at 73 of England's 92 league grounds. He only ever lost patience once, when the City team he'd gone to see in a game in Groclin, Poland, ignored fans as they returned to the plane after midnight. That was November 2003. City finished 16th that season, yet their average home crowd of 46,834 was still the third highest in England's Premier League.

A new stadium, built for Manchester's 2002 Commonwealth Games, helped. But angered over events in Groclin, Mark Bent quit going to away games for a year.

He was soon back; it was in his blood. Mark's granddad John had watched City at their first home, Hyde Road, which they left for Maine Road in 1923. Mark's dad Albert is from Hulme, a working-class inner-city area equidistant between Old Trafford and Maine Road. It wasn't unusual, as it would be now, for those of his generation and class to watch United one week and City the next, but Albert favoured City. He was at Wembley in 1956 when their German ex-POW goalkeeper Bert Trautmann broke his neck.

Mark got his first season ticket in 1982-83.

"I started going in the year we got relegated by Luton," he says. Luton's cream-suited manager David Pleat ran across the Maine Road pitch, in cream slip-on shoes. Luton were up, City were down. It's an image which delights older United fans, who loved seeing City suffer.

Image title

Manchester City host Charlton in a Division Two match at Maine Road in May 1985. City won 5-1 to return to the top flight.

Not that United fans had so much to gloat about in the 1980s. The team went through two full decades without being champions of England, yet following the arrival of Alex Ferguson in 1986, United returned to the top of the football tree. Ferguson, who won United's first league title for 26 years in 1993, would win so many titles that United surpassed Liverpool's 18-trophy haul.

I'm a United fan who started the fanzine United We Stand in 1989 while at school. Mark sat next to me in the classroom—two football-mad 15-year-olds. That's normal in Manchester, where football matters. Really matters.

More people watch live football in Manchester than in any other two-team city in the world. More than Madrid, Munich and Milan. United's home average attendance was 75,329 in 2015-16; City's 54,041. United were the third-best supported team in world football after Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona, City eighth. United's average would have been first had Old Trafford been bigger.

Manchester is more than two clubs, though. Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, Rochdale and Bury make up the professional teams of Greater Manchester. There are another score of semi-professional clubs, six in England's sixth division alone, including Stockport County, whose team beat Manchester City in a league game when they last met in 2002.

Within an hour's car journey from Manchester you'll find Oldham, Everton, Liverpool, Tranmere, Chester, Wrexham, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Blackpool, Accrington Stanley, Preston North End, Fleetwood, Leeds United, Bradford City, Huddersfield Town, Crewe Alexandra, Stoke City, Morecambe, Macclesfield Town and Port Vale. There's not an area in world football with so many professional clubs in such proximity.

Within a month of his arrival, Guardiola would be describing Manchester to friends as a city addicted to football.

Mark and I seldom speak about football. He's blue, I'm red. We know where we stand. And that's that. The rules were never written or discussed, but his seven-year-old son Braydondoesn't subscribe to them one bit.

Last seen riding in a Mancunian black cab with Guardiola, Braydon, like Pep, represents a bold new future for City.

Artwork by Emran Omar.

While the April 2012 Manchester derby was a more important match since it was so significant in deciding the title race, the September 2016 derby is attracting more global attention because there are so many plotlines: new managers, new players—and new money, chiefly from television, which has allowed United and City to spend more than any club in world football this close season.

The managers have gone head-to-head 16 times, with Guardiola winning seven, Mourinho three and six draws. Guardiola's Barca only lost twice in 11 games to Mourinho's Madrid. Mourinho's record against City is better, with seven victories from 14 games and only three defeats. United and City, both currently unbeaten, head the league table, setting the early pace.

"The two Manchester teams will be the ones to beat this year," says former United and England captain Bryan Robson. "They have world-class managers, but the focus shouldn't just be about the managers. If the two new managers hadn't joined, the media would be focusing on a different aspect involving the players, maybe (ZlatanIbrahimovic and (Sergio) Aguero. The game should be about the teams, like it used to be."

More people watch live football in Manchester than in any other two-team city in the world

Robson is right, but the main attraction remains the first meeting of Mourinho and Guardiola in England at Old Trafford this weekend.

Something has got to give in the derby. It's understood that both clubs are keen to avoid a repeat of the unedifying confrontations between the pair in Spain, but is that possible given their previous history and when the stakes are so high, so early in the season?

All sources gathered firsthand unless otherwise stated. Lead artwork by Hannah Carroll. Artwork curated by Sean Fay and comprised of work by artists with connections to Manchester. Photos courtesy of Getty Images.  Chapter 2 of Pep & Jose Chronicles will run on Tuesday October 11.

Andy Mitten

The Author

Andy Mitten is the founder and editor of United We Stand, a regular contributor to outlets including the Manchester Evening News, FourFourTwo and the Sunday Times, and the author of 11 books on football in Manchester. Andy splits his time between Manchester and Barcelona.