Fourteen different players have played under great rivals Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola – but what have they said about two of the modern era’s greatest managers?
There’s no single recipe for success in football. Different management styles suit different players. Paternal motivators, ego wranglers, fear merchants, orchestral conductors ‒ they all have their place.
As much as any moment of skill, it’s the game of chess in the technical area that makes football compelling. Sometimes styles clash and it spills over into something altogether more personal.
For the past decade, there’s been no better rivalry than the fire and ice stylings of Mourinho and Guardiola. It’s the ultimate tussle between idealism and pragmatism.
There is, however, some overlap. For Guardiola or Mourinho to get the best out of their squad, they need total buy-in from the players. Commitment and discipline are not negotiable.
It’s an elite sliver of Venn diagram that houses the shared assets of the Spaniard and Portuguese. Here’s a selection of quotes from those with first-hand experience of working for both.
Games under Guardiola: 23
– “He is the most demanding person, not only coach, that I have ever met,” Hojbjerg told The Times in 2018.
“He always told me about controlling the game with or without the ball. To make the player you play against react to you, not you to him.
“He used to say to me, ‘Pierre, the most important thing is, if they are close to you, go out and if they are open, you go in, but you need to read it.’ He would say: ‘You need to tell me after one minute, how do they play.’
“We sit on the bus [at Bayern] after we have won and he sits on the bus watching the game and then he is in his office with two laptops and a television and he is analysing.
“Maybe that’s what makes him the greatest. But also maybe that is what makes him lose, because it is too much, he drowns. I don’t judge him but he is the greatest teacher I have had.”
Games under Mourinho: 46
– “It’s great to train under Jose Mourinho,” Hojberg told BT in 2020. “He is a great trainer and he has a great personality. You can learn a lot from him, and he’s incredibly hungry and motivated to keep learning, and that’s really cool.
“He’s himself. He is a great man and a great coach and he is a great motivation to keep doing his best for the club and for the team.
“Each coach has their own view on some small details, and that view he shares. I grasp, and I am motivated to keep taking several good steps.”
Games under Guardiola: 61*
– “Pep is a manager admired across the world – what he’s done in the game speaks for itself,” Ake told Manchester City’s official website in 2020. “The success he’s had is unbelievable and the style of football he plays really appeals to me.”
Games under Mourinho: 6
– “I like him a lot,” Ake told the Daily Echo in 2019. “I worked with him for around two years or something like that.
“He is a manager who makes to want you to fight for everything. Makes you want to win things and I’m sure he wants to do that at Tottenham.
Games under Guardiola: 41
– ‘I have worked to be the best in the world since the age of 15,” Sanchez said in 2017. “I have always thought that. But in recent years (under Guardiola) I have learned to not be selfish with my teammates.”
Games under Mourinho: 30
– “Mourinho is one of the best coaches in the world in the way that he coaches, how he studies videos, the way he goes about things,” Sanchez told the BBC in 2020.
“But then, within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team then out. Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence, each player lost their confidence, do you understand?
“And then an atmosphere was created that wasn’t healthy. Sometimes I’m playing well and I score a goal and he took me off. And I’d say, ‘I love football, I love football.’
“I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I lose my joy. I’m like that.”
Games under Guardiola: 79
– “At Bayern, we played 90 minutes in the opposition half. I did not have to cover so much ground, I kept my position and made smaller efforts. In the last years, it was very good for me. And I learned so much. It was very enriching.”
– “Most of Pep’s teams try to attack in a small space, and to defend in a bigger space. That’s the difficult part of football. People tend to think of Pep as just focusing on attacking, but I say it’s the opposite. He thinks more about defence. I’ve seen footage of Sergio Aguero running back, David Silva pressing, and I’m sure he’s changing that mentality and intensity at City.”
Games under Mourinho: 151
– “[Mourinho] is 100 per cent competitive and wants to win. He squeezes out what he doesn’t like to get what he wants.”
– “[At Real] There were phases of the game when we were not dominant, but we were in control. For example, there was a feeling that every corner against us was a chance for us. When we countered…with Mesut, who seemed weak but could carry the ball 30 yards brutally, Cristiano ran up the opposite side knowing that he would get the ball at the end of the move.”
Kevin De Bruyne
Games under Guardiola: 292*
– “He’s intense and detailed. Everybody knows what they have to do with the ball and without the ball. I never had a manager so detailed in every moment and aspect of the game, and saying what to do. Some trainers just say whatever, ‘just play’.
“There’s a certain freedom here, but a lot of discipline. The more you come up the pitch, the more freedom there is. In the first 60 metres of the pitch, everybody knows exactly what they need to do to help the team go up. Everybody has to be in position or run to make options for the other guys, and that’s why we can play so much from the back.”
Games under Mourinho: 9
– “It’s true that he said in the press that I wasn’t doing what was needed in training. It was easy to say that because there was no-one to check it ‒ the training sessions were closed to the public…But at that moment, I couldn’t do anything because he would have said I was lying and afterwards he would have used it. Did I ask for training to be done in public? I said it, yes, but not to him personally.”
– “Mourinho told me he wasn’t keen to let me go, not even on loan. But what could I do more?”
Games under Guardiola: 52
– “As a trainer, he had nothing to show me. He came in, didn’t know the story of the dressing room and said certain things…Pep, perhaps in his desire to win, didn’t respect certain things in football.”
– “Guardiola has never had the courage to say things in front of me. He passed by the players. Xavi told me they wanted me to stay, but I had to talk to Pep. I said, ‘Never, if you don’t respect me, I don’t respect you.’”
Games under Mourinho: 83
– “It’s true that in terms of motivation he is unique. I have worked with plenty of coaches, but Jose is incredible. As a match approaches, he becomes someone else. It’s true that, like everyone, he is human. He is sometimes eccentric. He loses it sometimes like he did with me. But he is someone who never says something against his players. He takes all the pressure on himself.”
– “Jose has changed a lot. I discovered someone exceptional when I came to Inter. At Chelsea, it was already a bit difficult…Let’s be clear: I’ve nothing against Jose. He is able to pick someone, tell him ‘you are the best’ and he’ll have a very good game. But football is evolving.”
Games under Guardiola: 48
– “Guardiola has always been my idol since childhood. I played in his position and I noticed him. My coach even gave me a shirt signed by him.”
– “With Pep, obviously I learned a different way to understand football tactically in terms of team effort. But we were playing with great players so it becomes a little bit easier in terms of winning titles.”
Games under Mourinho: 69
– “Mourinho makes me feel very important within the team. He allows me to play the way I feel. He makes me feel things that I haven’t felt for a while. To feel important, to play every game. I feel like he trusts me. Sometimes he allows me to give speeches.”
– “I learned a lot from him, his passion for football, his character, his ambition to always win. It’s not easy. The way he pushes his players to improve every day is what impresses me the most.”
Games under Guardiola: 46
– “I told Guardiola that he’d sacrificed the other players for Messi. He told me he understood me. After that, he put me on the bench for the next game, the one after that and the one after that. I’d walk into a room and he’d walk out. I’d go to meet him and he’d go somewhere else. I understood that there was something beyond football.”
– “I remember on my first day, he told me that the Barcelona players didn’t turn up to training in Ferraris or Porsches. He’d already judged me then, but if you don’t know a person then you can’t judge them. I had my experience with him, I don’t know about others. He wasn’t the worst coach I’d worked under, but he was certainly the most immature because a man solves his problems.”
Games under Mourinho: 100
– “Mourinho is the disciplinarian. Everything with him is a mind game ‒ he likes to manipulate. Such tricks were new for me ‒ all the time doing one thing to get another thing, all the time triggering me. I like these games and it worked for me.”
– “That guy says whatever he wants. I like him. He’s the leader of his army. But he cares, too. He would text me all the time at Inter, wondering how I was doing. He’s the exact opposite of Pep Guardiola. If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains. Mourinho would become a guy I was basically willing to die for.
Games under Guardiola: 34
– “Guardiola is more obsessed with the way that his team plays. He is more timid and doesn’t like confrontation.”
– “I just remember what Guardiola said to us again and again. He went through it all and said, ‘Listen boys, this is how we are going to win the final’. Then he set up the team and convinced us, just put it in our mindset that we were going to win it. And that was it. It turned out almost exactly how he said it would.”
Games under Mourinho: 94
– “Mourinho is more chest-out ‘come and get it if you want’. He likes a bit of confrontation and a bit of discussion – and a heated discussion at that.”
– “The press were saying how strict he was and how it was going to be like the army for us for the next few years. Instead, he walked in and showed us a sort of map of what he expected of every individual and how we would work together as a group. A few of us looked at each other that day and said, ‘We’re going to win the league this year’ ‒ and that was just one meeting.”
Games under Guardiola: 89
– “Guardiola is a great man. He always explains to me what he wants and his manners are really calm and polite. It is much better to have this type of coach than one who doesn’t say anything to you.”
– “He stays close to the players, much more than Mourinho does. Maybe it is because he only recently stopped playing football.”
Games under Mourinho: 29
– “The two coaches are very demanding, but with a different mentality and entirely different character. Guardiola is closer and has a gentler way of saying things. I talk to Guardiola after practice and he explains things very quietly and slowly, that’s much better than having a coach who will not say anything.”
– Mino Raiola: “Maxwell’s problem is not Santon, but Mourinho. My client does not want to respect the rest of his contract under Mourinho and prefers to move elsewhere. Maxwell has been badly pushed aside by Mourinho. He did not like the way this situation was handled.”
Games under Guardiola: 167
– “Pep has given his all for the team. He has changed my life.”
– “He is faithful to his ideas and he can convince his players to change the philosophy of direct play by playing more elaborate football.”
Games under Mourinho: 17
– “He is very different face-to-face. He treats you like one of his family. He values and respects his players and demands much from them.”
– “The truth is that one has an image of him that when you know him, changes a lot. It’s not what it seems. I like the way Mourinho works. I feel comfortable. He has a positive and winning mentality. I am delighted because I like nothing better than winning.”
Games under Guardiola: 97
– “When I started working with Pep…I noticed how he goes much deeper into football. His intelligence is obvious. Tactically he’s one of the best in the world and under him I have made more steps in my development.”
– “The way he wants to play, with a very dominant style, suits me perfectly. And you can discuss anything with him. If it’s 3am, Pep would be happy to talk to you about football.”
Games under Mourinho: 106
– “When I met Mourinho, I was still very young, but mentally and tactically, he worked on me. He was really demanding; you could not take a step below your level.”
– “It was very good to work with him at that age because I was young and with Mourinho you have to be mentally very strong. You have to jump on the train with him or you’re off. So it was great for my development.”
Games under Guardiola: 43
– “It takes time to understand what he wants. I’ve been in football a long time and I’ve never had a coach who makes so many changes. For the strikers it’s a bit easier – we just need to put defenders under pressure up front, that’s what he wants.”
Games under Mourinho: 5
– “Unfortunately I only had the chance to work with him for a short while. I didn’t really have the chance to show him what I could do.”
By Charlie Lawry