Manchester derby: Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola go head to head for the first time this season
Now, this is not about right and wrong, as some would have you believe. This is not an argument about morals.
If Mourinho wishes to adopt defensive tactics in a home match against his club’s local rivals City, of course he can do that. If he thinks that ‘parking the bus’, as he did away to Liverpool earlier in the season, is the best strategy for his side, that’s fine and dandy.
The manager of Manchester United sees beauty in granite defence. He can be almost wistful talking about it. He is the incomparable Bob the Builder of sporting walls.
Guardiola has an alternative outlook. He sees beauty in dazzling attacks, endless possession, and intricate passing movements. He is the incomparable Picasso of the playing fields.
If there is victory for Mourinho in this afternoon’s match at Old Trafford, he will be lauded once again as a special manager.
A draw or defeat, playing defensively, and he will be the punch-ball for a barrage of criticism.
Jose Mourinho’s side need something against Manchester City to stay in the title race
Victory for Guardiola will prompt similar praise. But he won’t suffer the same disdain if his team loses.
There’s the difference in this story. Most people, whichever club they happen to support, prefer a positive approach to sport. They want their team to win, but they hope to be entertained as well.
When Tony Pulis, a very fine football manager, lost too many matches at West Brom earlier this season, he lost the crowd as well because the style of play was forever dull. He became a prisoner of his pragmatism.
Mourinho’s style has delivered a hugely successful career; he has won many trophies for his various clubs.
Pragmatism sustains him. It suits his contrary nature. He delights in it now. He revels in the contrast with Guardiola and sneeringly mocks the critics as Einsteins.
That’s all fine and dandy. But isn’t there also peril in this approach at Manchester United, a club whose legend built on commitment to attacking football?
When I talk to United fans the message is that they are happy about the excellent win ratio this season, but have reservations about how good the team really is.
And, yes, they are envious of the stylish way that Manchester City currently play their football.
That’s the reality at heart of today’s derby. It’s the one that Mourinho would like to avoid.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s relationship has calmed in recent years
When a middling or small Premier League team goes ultra-defensive at home against City, nobody expects anything else given the financial mis-match.
City have spent £296million net in the transfer market to create Guardiola’s side.
United have spent slightly less in the same period under Mourinho, £266million net, but these are relatively similar monstrous fortunes. The Reds of Manchester have broken the world transfer record during that time to announce their ambition.
It has been more than enough money to buy a team built to attack and dazzle as its priority — if the manager wished. That is especially so when the club already had Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford on the books.
That isn’t the way of Jose Mourinho. He prefers power and strength as the path to glory. And, much as he may not like it, this leaves him particularly vulnerable when his direct opponent is Pep Guardiola.
JOE ROOT has impressed in many ways as England cricket captain, but he lost touch with reality when he claimed his team are still “massively in this series” after two crushing Ashes defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide.
He wanted to put on a brave face to the world, he wanted to display some fighting spirit — and we can applaud that desire.
But the truth is different.
England have been seriously second best to Australia in the crucial passages of play in the opening two Test matches.
Home advantage is a significant factor, and so too is the superior speed of the trio of Aussie fast bowlers.
Then there are self-inflicted wounds; the absence of Ben Stokes, and mistakes of strategy which have also helped to undermine England.
Everyone knew that a fragile top order batting line-up was a profound concern. Yet Root stubbornly refused to contemplate the best way to alleviate this glaring weakness and its most pressing problem, the No.3 slot.
Instead of heeding the wise opinion of head coach Trevor Bayliss that the captain at No.3 would be best for the team, Root allowed the side to go with wildcard gamble James Vince in that position for The Ashes.
It was a mistake in high summer when Root first insisted on batting at No.4, and its folly is evident now with cricket’s most cherished prize about to be surrendered in the swiftest time possible.
Bayliss, by the way, is equally culpable as the captain.
Trevor Bayliss’s England are in danger of a whitewash
SPORTS politics can seem a dull subject compared to the glory and despair of the action we love to watch.
But how football’s world governing body FIFA must have squirmed when the International Olympic Committee last week banned Russia from competing at next year’s Winter Olympics following sustained allegations of state-sponsored doping.
Another decision of the IOC was a lifetime ban for Vitaly Mutko, the former Sports Minister and now Russian deputy Prime Minister, who is excluded from all future Olympic Games.
Mutko is currently the lead organiser for the next summer’s football World Cup being staged in Russia.
For the moment FIFA, without a hint of shame, say the IOC verdicts have “no impact” on the World Cup.
It is a craven response — rooted in the cynicism of power politics, and the fear that any criticism by FIFA of the Russians might mean an emergency need to stage the World Cup elsewhere.
Well, why not call Russia’s bluff? Germany, Spain, France, England and Italy all have the capability to organise a major sporting event in a hurry if that need arises.
BOXING has commanded the attention of great writers through the years, from Ernest Hemingway to AJ Liebling.
Their company is joined by James Lawton with his chronicle of what he believes was the sport’s final golden era — three decades spanning champions from Muhammad Ali to Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.
Lawton watched them all from a privileged seat at ringside, and recalls nights and days around the globe with vividly powerful prose.
Thankfully, he does not shy away from the dark side of boxing, and confronts the eternal question of its place in civilised society.
This is a book high up in the pantheon of sporting literature, and thoroughly recommended.
A Ringside Affair — Boxing’s Last Golden Age, By James Lawton (Bloomsbury £20).