Jose Mourinho has downplayed talk surrounding his rivalry with Pep Guardiola, telling those looking for a fight to watch Kell Brook’s bout with Gennady Golovkin rather than the Manchester derby.
Students of the game during Sir Bobby Robson’s time at Barcelona, the interpreter and midfielder’s friendly relationship became much more testy as they vied for LaLiga glory.
The battle between Guardiola’s Barca side and Mourinho at Real Madrid encapsulated onlookers for several years, making the renewal of hostilities as Manchester City and Manchester United managers as exciting as it is intriguing.
The cancellation of July’s money-spinning friendly in China meant the duo will go head-to-head for the first time in their new roles on Saturday, when Old Trafford hosts their eagerly-anticipated Premier League clash.
There was, though, little sign in the pre-match press conference of the resentment and tension that brewed during their time in Spain.
Mourinho was coy when asked about Guardiola.
“You want me to give you headlines and I want to go for lunch,” he said, after underlying this was a match between players rather than managers – something we accentuated in Big Weekend.
“No,” he said when asked if their relationship had deteriorated.
“On the touchline probably nothing, but probably inside, in the dressing rooms, fine – I met him a couple of weeks ago. You want stories but I don’t have them for you.
“We met in the Premier League meeting. You want a fight but the fight is Brook against the Russian guy (Golovkin), you know? It’s not us.
“It’s not me against him, it’s Man United against Man City.”
Mourinho proved adept at brushing aside the questions that continued about the pair’s relationship.
Having in Beijing scoffed at the suggestion they may not shake hands, he was nearly as perplexed by a question as to whether they would share a post-match drink.
“That’s important? I don’t think it’s important,” Mourinho said.
“If we do, we don’t have to tell you. If we don’t do, it is because we have other things to do.
“But it’s not because of that we have a problem, because we don’t have a problem.”
When pointed out he sought out a nice bottle of wine for Sir Alex Ferguson in the past, he retorted: “Because I know he loves it.
“And football also changes in the past years. In this moment, you finish the game and we managers we have more work to do than the 90 minutes of the game.
“I prefer the 90 minutes of the game than the 90 minutes with you (in the media).
“I have to go to every television and I have to go here and there, tomorrow after the game I have to go to one of the club sponsors. Let me enjoy the 90 minutes at least.”
Mourinho hopes to be fulfilling those responsibilities basking in the afterglow of a big win, if not one with much relevance in the title race.
He downplayed the suggestion that previous duels with Guardiola could prove beneficial and that Zlatan Ibrahmiovic would be extra motivated against a manager under whom he endured a frustrating time at Barcelona.
“I never read Zlatan saying that Guardiola is a bad manager,” Mourinho said.
“I never read it. I don’t think he is motivated. It is normal between managers and players you have more connections with some than others, but that doesn’t mean you hate each other.
“I read something, for example, that Eden (Hazard) is in love with Antonio (Conte, Chelsea manager) and was not in love with me. But he’s not my enemy, it’s just feeling, that’s fine. I am happy for him.
“So Zlatan didn’t have the best period of his career but that’s fine, they are not enemies.
“We are not expecting Zlatan tomorrow to score a goal and run to Pep, sliding on his knees – that’s not going to happen.
“You want stories but I think the story is, I hope, a great 90 minutes tomorrow between two teams full of good players in a mythical stadium.
“I don’t how many billions watching the game all over the countries. That’s the story, that’s the story.”