Jose Mourinho is accustomed to being in control, used to being the smartest man in any room and almost always has the final word. Except, it seems, when Pep Guardiola is in the vicinity.
Ahead of Friday's renewal of one of the most compelling and bitter managerial rivalries in football history, it was predictable that Mourinho's losing record against Guardiola should be raised. Less predictable, however, was the botched rebuttal. Asked why he had won only three times in 15 fixtures against Guardiola's Barcelona, Mourinho preferred to rewrite history rather than address the question. "Your statistics are wrong," he said.
"Go there and see what happened with Inter in the Champions League semi-final. I was champion in Spain. I won the match of the title in Barcelona with Real Madrid. The Copa del Rey in Spain. The Super Cup in Spain. You are very wrong." Only it was Mourinho who was wrong. In 15 head-to-heads with Guardiola, he has indeed notched up only three victories. For the record, they were in the Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010, the Copa del Rey of 2011 with Real Madrid and their last duel, in La Liga, in April 2012.
The Spanish Super Cup victory of last year occurred only after Tito Vilanova had replaced Guardiola. Mourinho did eventually backtrack. "I don't know - maybe you are right and I am wrong, but I don't care," he said. "It's not important for me." Mourinho was then informed of comments by Uli Hoeness, the Bayern Munich president, who said that Guardiola had been "miles away the better" manager when they were opponents in Spain.
"It's his opinion. No problem," said Mourinho. Conscious of the contrast that was often drawn between the technical beauty of Barcelona and his own supposed win-at-all-costs mentality, Mourinho was even more reluctant to engage with questions over perceived styles of football. Pointing to the badge on his tracksuit top, he said: "It's white but it's Chelsea. If you want questions about Chelsea, I'm here. If you want -questions about Real Madrid and Barcelona, I'm not here. It's not about me and Pep. It's about Chelsea and Bayern Munich. It's about a Super Cup where the European champions are playing the Europa League -champions."
Guardiola took a similar view - "the reason we're here is for the players, not the coaches" - but did reveal that he would eventually like to join Mourinho in the Premier League. "I am a young trainer at 42," said Guardiola. "I would like to go to England but in a few years. I would like, first of all, to remain as long as possible at this club. After that, I'd like to live this experience but it's fantasy football. It's fantasy right now." And what about Chelsea? It is common knowledge that Guardiola was courted by Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, while at Barcelona and then again during his one-year sabbatical from football.
He eventually chose Bayern, clearing the path for Mourinho's return to Chelsea, but did he almost come to the Premier League? There was no denial. "Chelsea have a good trainer now," said Guardiola. "I have lots of respect for Jose Mourinho's career. Chelsea has a super trainer. Bayern too. I am happy to be here. I think Mourinho is happy to be there." Guardiola was also generous in specifically explaining why he rates Mourinho, the manager, so highly. "When you lose the ball, his teams' quick, quick counter-attacks," he said.
"He's a master in these actions. Everybody knows he's an excellent, excellent trainer." Mourinho preferred to direct his praise at Bayern's collective achievements but is adamant that his young Chelsea team can cause an upset. "Bayern's team is the end product," said Mourinho. "It's a team of players in the best moment of their careers. They come from a season when they showed they were the perfect team because only perfect teams can win the treble." Mourinho delivered that version of perfection himself with Porto and Inter but is still in the rebuilding phase at Chelsea. Having signed -Willian this week, the club confirmed the 2 million pounds arrival of Samuel Eto'o on a one-year deal, as The Sunday Telegraph predicted.
Questions also persist about how Mourinho intends to use Juan Mata, who is expected to make only his second start of the season tonight. "He didn't play against Man United - I always have my reasons," said Mourinho. "It's my duty to explain to the reasons to my players. It's not my duty to explain it to the media. He's a very important player for us, I want him to stay, he wants to stay, the club wants him to stay."