Book Review: The Duellists

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, two men who were given their big breaks at Barcelona, two men who owe a lot to the club. But the club could only ever love one of them.

And it might well have been Jose Mourinho, had, in 2008, Johan Cruyff not intervened at the Barcelona board’s plans to hire Mourinho. However, as revealed in Paolo Condo’s ‘The Duellists’, Guardiola’s war cry that the Barca powers that be wouldn’t be brave enough to hire him – which resulted in a pre-drafted contract being pulled out there and then for Pep to sign – coupled with the iconic Cruyff’s dislike for Mourinho’s approach to football, it was Pep who remained draped in Catalunya love.

Losing out on the Barcelona job stung Mourinho, it was finally a chance for him to show he’s more than a defensive-minded football manager. However, the bitter pill to swallow was losing out to Pep Guardiola, a man with one year of management experience – and that was only at Barcelona B.

Therefore, when in April 2011, Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other four times in just 18 days, Mourinho and Guardiola’s rivalry had reached its most bitter moments; the footballing world would be subjected to the best – and worst – of the world’s two biggest football clubs, two biggest managers and their different approaches to everything.

“You’ve got to love Jose Mourinho; he’s a Grand Theft Auto character who’s been transported into the real world. He’s so over the top, that he’s a caricature of himself, but there’s nothing like being there to listen to him insult and mock Spanish journalists, as he tells you how lucky you’re.”

Paolo Condo

Throughout ‘The Duellists’ there’s that continual backhanded appreciation when referring to Mourinho’s infamous ‘games’; the writer understands they’re devious, underhand and bitter, but there’s denying there success – in the short-term, at least.

The book is all geared around building up to when Jose Mourinho, ahead of the first-leg of the Champions League semi-final – the third game of the four – launches into a vintage Mourinho press conference: calculated and manipulative.

The video of that press conference has deliberately not been included, here. Because the writer captures the atmosphere, the room and Mourinho in such a way, that it wouldn’t do it justice in watching it now.

It’s explosive and gripping reading – in some ways you can’t believe Mourinho has done what he’s done, despite knowing it definitely did happen six years ago; you feel like you’re there, in the front row, mouth open at what you’re witnessing.

It was a moment that caused Pep Guardiola to respond in a rare moment of losing his cool:

You come away from the book with a feeling that, Pep Guardiola isn’t without his flaws, but when you’re trying to build a better world, your less than desirable traits are washed over – something Mourinho is not afforded.

It’s interesting to consider, though, given the final words in ‘The Duellists’, did Mourinho merely return to the Premier League because he knew that’s where he’d find Pep, again?

“Because in the end, that is the real treasure, the real richness that transforms lives and careers: an opponent – whether it’s an enemy, rival or adversary ultimately doesn’t matter – who forces you to give your best, on pain of defeat.”

Paolo Condo