Van Gaal/Mourinho: The Good Blood Rivalry


On Sunday evening, Chelsea and Manchester United will resume their rivalry at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are charging towards the league title but United are the form team determined at securing a return to the Champions League. Neither team will want to drop any points at this crucial stage of the season.

But there is added intrigue for this fixture, as the teacher and the pupil once again face off in the dugouts.

Eighteen years ago this year, Dutchman Louis van Gaal walked into the Camp Nou. In Catalonia he discovered that his predecessor, Sir Bobby Robson, had left his translator behind… One Jose Mourinho, who certainly wasn’t the Special One at that point.

In fairness it’s very harsh to call Jose just a translator. The reason for his appointment at Sporting Lisbon (then Porto & Barca) under Bobby Robson was also due to the fact he was a coach as well as his good grasp of English. That would mean that he could learn from his mentor in one on one situations and become close to the other coaches and the players.

No mere translator would be allowed to take training drills, but Mourinho was afforded that luxury because Bobby spotted something in him.

When the legendary England boss departed Barca is 97, but Mourinho stayed put. Van Gaal came in and was immediately impressed by this young Portuguese coach he had inherited. Like Robson, he saw something special in Jose and allowed him to take more training sessions and look after the younger players in the B team. He even allowed him to take charge of certain cup games.

On the main part the two enjoyed three pretty successful seasons together at the Camp Nou, where they won two La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey. Lets not forget that a certain Josep Guardiola was also at Barca during that era, he was Van Gaal’s captain no less.

At Barcelona, Jose learned a lot from Louis van Gaal and they both share a number of similarities. The two have a keen eye for detail and planning and both have a unique self-confidence that sometimes comes across as ultimate arrogance.

When Van Gaal left Spain in 2000, Jose returned home to Portugal to start his own career as a number one and would soon become the ‘Special One’.

Famously their paths would cross again a decade later and again it would be in Spain.

The date: The Twenty-Second of May 2010. The Venue: The Bernabeu in Madrid. The Prize: The Champions League.

Now the master and his apprentice would battle it out for the biggest prize in European football. Both managers had won the famous cup on one previous occasion each (With teams from their home countries). Yet even though the stakes were so high, both men showed each other huge amounts of respect.

At the final whistle the younger man, Mourinho, and his pragmatic Inter Milan side would end up the victors. But one of the first things to happen as the referee drew the game to a close was for the managers to share a warm embrace with each other and Bayern Munich gaffer Van Gaal was first to say ‘Congratulations‘.

It showed a real touch of class from both men.

In football we are so used to the bad blooded rivalries and we never seem to appreciate those bosses that respect each other.

People seem to thrive off the hatred that Roy Keane shows Sir Alex Ferguson or vice-versa. The media lap-up the tension that Jose Mourinho seems to have with his own prodigy, Andre Villas-Boas. The niggle felt between Louis van Gaal and another former Barca assistant, Ronald Koeman, always garners more attention than it deserves.

What those examples show, is that the friendship and affection that Jose and Louis feel for each other is obviously very real.

When Chelsea travelled up north to face Man Utd back in October of last year and played out a draw at Old Trafford. Both managers once again embraced and this seemed to have certain sections of the media (cough cough Daily Mail) foaming at the mouth with incandescent rage!

How could two well respected and successful foreign managers come to England and hug each other after a draw! This is the Premier League! 

Were the shouts and cries we heard from some of our press.

I love the affection these two men share for each other and to be honest it’s quite refreshing in this day and age.

Mourinho learned a lot from his days working under Van Gaal at Barcelona. In his pre-match presser the Chelsea boss said of his former mentor…

“I consider him a big, big, big friend.”

While before their last meeting in October, Van Gaal gave Jose a huge compliment…

“He is one of the top in the world, I think he might even be better than me”

But don’t let all the talk of being best buddies and having a strong friendship fool you. Both of these men are driven by results and success.

On Sunday neither manager will let sentiment stand between them and winning three points. Yes they will no doubt hug again after the final whistle rings out at the Bridge but if we have a loser then they will still moan and feel the defeat like any other. While the victor will still have that self-assured smile and celebrate the triumph like any other too!

It’s a different kind of rivalry. A friendly rivalry? Sure. But a rivalry none the less.

Leave a Reply