The cooling of the mutual antipathy between two exceptional coaches brings a sense of relief, allowing a clash still rich in compelling narrative to breathe - but will it last?
By Liam Twomey in Prague
“It’s not about me and Pep Guardiola, it’s about Chelsea and Bayern Munich,” Jose Mourinho told reporters when asked the question he will have been preparing to answer for weeks.
Ordinarily, the Church of the Special One decrees that any game of football starts with the first quote of the pre-match press conference and ends with the last soundbite after the final ball is kicked.
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But there was no more pointed praise of Jupp Heynckes, very little in the way of historical revisionism and, instead, what seemed to be a conscious effort to avoid a firebrand quote. In the main, for once, Mourinho seemed happy to bide his time and wait for his players to do the talking on the pitch.
“It's about a Super Cup where the European champion is playing against the Europa League champion,” he insisted. “Pep is not European champion and I'm not Europa League champion. We just coach now the European champion and the Europa League champion. This is not about us. It's about Chelsea and Bayern.”
Guardiola, too, was at pains not to stoke the rivalry with the man who in recent years has become his nemesis, calling Mourinho a “super trainer” on several occasions and even dignifying one journalist’s somewhat mischievous request to list the qualities he has learned from the Portuguese boss over the years – albeit after a slightly awkward pause.
Whether this ceasefire lasts through whatever drama Friday will bring remains to be seen, but in the meantime the cooling of the mutual antipathy between these two exceptional coaches brings a kind of relief – if only because it allows a match which has much else in the way of compelling narrative to breathe.
Bayern Munich are the all-conquering European champions who, according to Mourinho, became a “perfect team” last season with their treble-winning heroics.
Chelsea, though, are the scar on their psyche. One cannot underestimate the trauma the Blues’ miraculous maiden Champions League triumph at the Allianz Arena in 2012 inflicted on Germany’s most successful club. With their ‘Our city, our stadium, our cup’ mantra Bayern wrote their own script, only to have it torn up in front of their eyes and those of millions watching around the world.
Of course, victory over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in May went a long way towards healing the wounds, and Thomas Muller insists there is no “lingering bitterness” over the defeat. But privately the desire for revenge will surely be a significant presence in the minds of the Bavarians.
For Chelsea, too, the desired narrative is one of redemption. Ecstasy in Munich was followed by the ignominy of Super Cup humiliation at the hands of a Radamel Falcao-inspired Atletico Madrid and becoming the first Champions League holders to be parachuted into the Europa League.
Success in that competition was never in the plan, but it helped salvage a lost campaign and guaranteed the Blues another starring role in the glitzy opening ceremony of the Uefa season. “We are glad after we rightly lost to Atletico that we have another chance, and we would like to have a different story this time,” Petr Cech revealed.
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Indeed, the much-vaunted coach came under fire after losing the German Super Cup to Borussia Dortmund at the end of July, with doubts expressed in the media, and supposedly the boardroom, about his suitability for the job even at this early stage.
How Mourinho would love to make matters worse.
But much will depend on how adventurous the Portuguese decides to be. Against Manchester United a desire not to lose stifled his outlook. Drawing is not an option in Prague, and the best reward such pragmatism can yield is a repeat of the dramatic penalty shootout which settled the previous meeting between these two sides.
It is a scenario which, unsurprisingly, holds no fears for Cech. “If you have the cup in your hands it doesn’t matter how you managed to win it so, if we have to go to penalties, so be it. It’s always good to play well and win a game in normal time, but the only bad thing is to lose the game.” His opposite number, Manuel Neuer, took Bayern's third penalty in the 2012 shootout and will likely not be fazed this time around, either.
History is guaranteed on Friday: Bayern have never won the Super Cup, and neither has Mourinho. Drama will surely follow, even if the two men in the dugouts have put their differences behind them. It's a big 'if'.
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