This must have been a trial of a book to write. Barcelona as an entity is an enormously complex club, so charting its influence and direction over the careers of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola is a step beyond.
Fortunately, Jonathan Wilson is up to that task and his latest book’s success is in condensing a vast topic without simplification or the trading away of any detail. Mourinho and Guardiola have both been the subjects of biographies – some flattering, some less so – and both are worthy studies in their own right. To combine the two, to track their influences and to then also offer a detailed assessment of the strains of Dutch thinking which have shaped them is a mighty task indeed.
So: come for the headlining story, but also receive a first-rate education in the coaching career of Johan Cruyff, the legacy he left and the influence he continues to posthumously wield.
The Mourinho versus Guardiola tale itself is, of course, multi-faceted. On the one hand, these two high priests of the game have waged an ideological war, representing opposing views on how to literally win football matches. On the other, they also embody different approaches to a coach’s role away from the field. Guardiola the purist, Mourinho the manipulator. The dreamer and the pragmatist.
In that regard, The Barcelona Legacy has something for everybody. Wilson faithfully charts the growing distance between the two over the years and revisits the public skirmishes which have created that chasm, but – with the cooler analysis which he’s more associated – also charts the tactical evolutions and tweaks which manifested in their respective teams. The anecdotes are all here – the outbursts, the eye-poking, the volleying with the press – but so is the substance too.
Importantly, this is also a dispassionate analysis. Wilson isn’t overly enamoured with either man, neither is he too critical. Guardiola and Mourinho tend to inspire a peculiar form of binary fundamentalism and that’s a trap well-avoided. It’s a balanced read, a very fair one too, and supported by numerous interviews (including a memorable encounter with Louis van Gaal) and prior work. It’s certainly the most complete account of their rivalry and the reasons why it exists in the first place.
Remarkably, given that none of its subjects are ever really out of the media’s glare, The Barcelona Legacy really does break new ground. It’s well-balanced, as expertly written as expected, and essential for anyone in search of a proper oversight of who these men are and why they’ve risen and behaved as they have.