As we head into the final three months of the season, the Premier League title race looks as though it will ultimately become a straight fight between Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
For these managers it will be another battle in an at times bitter rivalry that goes back to when they were both coaching in Spain.
Inevitably it was Mourinho who started it in 2010 when he succeeded Pellegrini as the Real Madrid manager.
To assert his own authority at the Bernabeu, Mourinho denigrated his predecessor’s only season in the Spanish capital when he had actually accumulated a mammoth 96 points, but still finished as runners-up to Barcelona.
As reported by ESPN, Mourinho had sneered “second place is just the first loser,” and, “If Madrid were to fire me, I wouldn’t go to Malaga. I’d go to a top-level team in Italy or England.”
Over the course of the next three seasons, Mourinho proved his credentials by succeeding where Pellegrini had failed and winning a La Liga title in 2012.
The Chilean was never a serious threat to Mourinho in Spain with Malaga finishing behind Madrid in each of those three seasons, coming 11th, fourth and sixth.
Indeed, when Malaga and Madrid met each other, Mourinho triumphed five times, including 7-0 and 6-2 wins, with Pellegrini winning just once.
When Mourinho tried to rile Pellegrini with his insults the Chilean shrugged. As The Express reported, Pellegrini responded by saying: “I don’t like coaches who are only interested in results. The concepts of spectacle and creativity are fundamental to me.”
It was inevitable this rivalry would flare up once again when both Pellegrini and Mourinho moved to the Premier League this season.
On the eve of Pellegrini’s visit to Stamford Bridge in October, Mourinho was asked about his disparaging remarks about the Chilean and why he would not have taken the Malaga job.
As reported in The Daily Telegraph, Mourinho was typically blunt: “Because I wouldn’t. Because I’m in a situation where I can choose. Some people can’t choose.”
Pellegrini would not take the bait, and as also reported in The Daily Telegraph, responded with a typical sense of indifference.
I had a lot of chances to manage different clubs after Real Madrid and I have taken the decision of my life to go to Málaga. I am very happy. Nobody knows where every manager wants to manage or where he wants to be.
I don’t know [Mourinho]. He worked in Spain, I worked in another club. We played Real Madrid against Malaga. Nothing more, I don’t have any complaint about him.
But he was given further cause for complaint after Chelsea had beaten his side 2-1 with a late winner from Fernando Torres, and had to watch as Mourinho milked the celebrations and dived in to the crowd.
Pellegrini was furious and refused to shake Mourinho’s hand at the final whistle. “I didn’t expect anything else,” he said in the post-match press conference as reported by The Independent. “It is a different way to celebrate from me.”
“No, I didn’t shake hands. Because I didn’t want to.” Asked why, he said: “I repeat, I didn’t want to shake hands. I don’t want to say more.”
Even after outwitting Pellegrini at the Etihad stadium with a 1-0 win in the return game in the Premier League earlier in the month, Mourinho clearly still sees Pellegrini as a threat.
This season, the Chelsea manager has constantly hailed City as title favourites because they have the better squad and easier fixtures in the run-in compared to his own side which he prefers to characterise, as reported in The Independent as a “little horse.”
Pellegrini responded with a wry smile and some perspective, as reported in The Independent.
Maybe it is a small horse if the manager thinks like that. It can be a little horse, but very rich. This is the team that has spent most money in the last 10 years, is the team that spent most money this year and the team that spent the most money in the transfer window. So, little, but rich.
At the weekend Pellegrini gained some revenge when City knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup with a 2-0 win at the Etihad.
It was only Pellegrini’s second win over Mourinho in 10 attempts, but it will give him some much-needed confidence for the run-in.
In many respects, Pellegrini and Mourinho’s rivalry has so far been an imbalanced and largely false one.
Mourinho boasts two Champions League trophies and domestic titles in Portugal, Spain, Italy and England, while Pellegrini’s trophy cabinet from his time in Europe contains a solitary Intertoto Cup with Villareal.
Pellegrini has proved himself to be a fine coach, but it is not until this season that he has been able to compete on the same level as Mourinho.
At Manchester City he finally has the playing squad and financial backing to take on Mourinho in a fair fight.
In the next three months he will never have a better chance to get rid of the “loser” tag Mourinho so ungraciously gave him.