Exclusive: Spanish football expert Graham Hunter previews the Manchester derby
Despite Pep Guardiola’s assertions that he and rival manager Jose Mourinho will share a glass of win upon the conclusion of Saturday’s encounter, there will be no love lost as the Spaniard’s Manchester City side make the short trip to Old Trafford for the weekend’s hotly anticipated early kick-off.
Saturday marks the first day of Manchester’s new dawn as the two biggest managers in world football go head-to-head, in what is without doubt their greatest test since arriving at their new clubs. The duo endured a frosty relationship when rivals at Barcelona and Real Madrid and the Premier League faithful will hold high hopes that their rivalry proves just as emphatic in England.
Considering the history of that surrounds the relationship between, who better to speak to than Spanish football expert, Graham Hunter? The Boot Room were lucky enough to grab an interview with the author of BARÇA: THE MAKING OF THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD, who gave us an excellent insight into what should be a tantalizing clash.
TBR: As you’ll know from their time spent in Spain with Barcelona and Real Madrid, both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have very different management styles and favoured tactical systems. Have we already been able to see these trademark traits throughout the duo’s opening months in charge of Manchester City and United, respectively?
GH: More clearly at United. Mourinho’s squad is more ‘made’ – signings made earlier, fewer major changes, key players fit. For that reason I think that United is more identifiably ‘Jose’ so far than City is ‘Pep’. That’s not to say you can see Guardiola influences in terms of how the more intense training means players with zip, the inverted full backs, the speed of passing, the playing out from the back. But there’s more ‘trademark traits’ to come at City as players like Gündogan and Kompany get fit and Bravo is incorporated.
TBR: On the contrary, is there anything you have seen from either manager during their early days in Manchester that has come as a surprise to you?
GH: Very pleasantly surprised about how much game time Juan Mata is getting. Love watching him play and while he’s got neither the height or pace that JM cherishes he’s a smart, competitive, technically gifted footballer and I enjoy watching him . A little bit surprised that PG didn’t sign a top class full back. Other than that, no.
TBR: The saga surrounding Joe Hart’s future at Manchester City has dominated the back pages over the last month or so, with Pep Guardiola opting to sign Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo in his place. Has Pep been know to treat players similarly upon his arrival at a club in the past, and what can we expect to see from Bravo as the veteran prepares to make his Premier League debut?
GH: Similarly? Obviously, yes. Ronaldinho and Deco kicked out from the day Pep was presented at Barcelona. That makes his handling of Joe’s situation look beneficent and kindly. Hleb, Touré and Zlatan discovered what it felt like when the Spanish coach lost faith in them – no regrets, no mercy. Moved on for the good of his football ethos and if they acted in a way which lost his respect. I’ve always thought, then and now, that his dispatching of Samuel Eto’o was an error – but it’s generically similar. Same happened to Mario Mandzukic at Bayern and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg [for whom Pep had such high hopes]. There are more examples, but these’ll do.
Bravo is very competitive. Driven man, thrives on being challenged. Thrives on being surrounded by better players than was the case at Real Sociedad. Very good concentration, excellent keeper around his goal mouth – tidy, makes good saves, v few [perhaps two] outright errors in two title winning seasons at Barcelona. Evidently spurred on, domestically, by brilliant international form. Good presence in the dressing room and on training ground. Serious [not dull but intense] guy who’s there not for a bigger pay check but to win.
TBR: Paul Pogba is another who dominated the headlines throughout the summer, albeit slightly earlier on. It has been reported that Real Madrid were very interested in signing him, but their interest appeared to wane as the saga progressed. Is this the case, or did Manchester United genuinely beat the Spanish giants to the Frenchman’s signature?
GH: Their interest absolutely did not wane. They were out and out beaten by two things: the massive financial advantage United had over them and the degree to which Paul Pogba wanted to go back and prove himself at United. These were two major competitive advantages.
TBR: Considering the experience you have of Spanish football, you are more likely than most to remember Sergio Aguero’s days in La Liga with Atletico Madrid. When he was first signed by Manchester City, could you ever have imagined him becoming the prolific force he is today (arguably one of the greatest strikers the Premier League has ever seen)? How much of an impact do you believe his absence – through suspension – this weekend will have on the final result?
GH: Truthfully, although he’s performed well at City I think that he’s not nearly hit his full potential. While he’s won trophies he’s had too many injuries, too many different coaches, not ‘quite’ enough of a brilliant ten players behind him at all times. His record is very good, THAT goal will live forever and I’m very far from putting him down.
I just honestly think that theres more he can/could have offered if circumstances had been better [injuries included]. He’s a tremendous footballer, Guardiola’s brand of game should suit him [albeit he’s going to have to stop missing penalties and getting himself banned if he wants to keep his coach’s respect] and he’s got a good goals-to-win ratio v United. So they’ll miss him, of course.
TBR: Eric Bailly’s performances have captivated the attention of Manchester United fans, and it feels as though he has earned more man-of-the-match awards than games played. Can you give us an insight into what Jose Mourinho saw in him – to be willing to fork out a seemingly worthwhile £30m+ – from his time in Spain?
GH: I wrote about EB here http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/manchester-united-getting-raw-talent-8131090. That was the week he signed. I think the piece holds up to scrutiny now.
TBR: Finally then, Graham, perhaps the most important question of the day, who will come out on top when Manchester United meet Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, Pep or Jose?
GH: With Kun absent, Gundogan and Bravo not fully match sharp I guess it hints at United winning 2-1. If not, then a draw or a win would be one heck of a result for Pep and City.