It had to have been one of the strangest questions Mauricio Pochettino has ever fielded, but it was a question that everyone in MLS knew was coming – yes, Pochettino will shake Pablo Mastroeni’s hand at the conclusion of the MLS All-Star game on Wednesday night. No matter what.
It should go without saying. Not shaking the opposing manager’s hand after a match is the cardinal sin of soccer etiquette – a deed so distasteful that it, according to The Damned United, once ignited the most famous feud in the sport – Don Revie against Brian Clough.
It’s simple. No matter what, you shake the opposing manager’s hand.
Well, unless you’re Pep Guardiola and it’s the 2014 MLS All-Star game in Portland.
The match last year was one of the best spectacles in the history of the league’s showpiece regular season event. Bayern took the lead with a wonder strike from Robert Lewandowski early on, only to see that cancelled out by a blinding goal from New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips. Landon Donovan bagged the winner, against his former team, no less, by scoring on a sensational pass from hometown hero Diego Valeri.
But no one remembers much of it, which included the subtle farewell for Donovan, who would announce his retirement just days later, or the much louder farewell for Theirry Henry.
What we remember is the most bizarre and surreal moment that the All-Star game has ever produced, when Guardiola refused to shake MLS manager Caleb Porter’s hand.
The first sign of trouble came in the 64th minute, when noted Seattle Sounders hard-man Osvaldo Alonso went clattering into Bayern’s Xherdan Shaquiri for a yellow card. In response, Guardiola turned and screamed at the MLS bench.
Then, with time ticking down, and Bayern’s World Cup winning German contingent just into the game, Porter’s own club captain Will Johnson clattered into Bastian Schweinsteiger, who crumpled to the turf holding his ankle.
It was the last straw. At full-time of MLS’ 2-1 win, Porter walked towards Guardiola with his hand extended. But Guardiola walked the other way, wagging his finger toward his counterpart like he somehow should have known better than to ask for a handshake after a friendly match.
Porter kept after Guardiola, but to no avail. Forget for a minute that the All-Star game has traditionally been a competitive affair, or that Porter had no way of controlling his players once they were on the field, the naiveté from Guardiola – who acted as if the two sides had pre-arranged that they’d play a non-contact game – was remarkable.
Maybe he wasn’t thinking about how he’d come across, but it was classless, childish, and clueless. Maybe Guardiola was just mad that his team had lost. In any case, he’d walk off the field and make things worse.
In a post-game press conference in the basement of Providence Park that bordered on uncomfortable, Guardiola pretended that he just missed the MLS coaching staff, saying, “I didn’t see them. I shook hands with my players and the players from the opposing team.”
He then outdid himself by pretending that he didn’t even know who Porter was, even though the two had shared the stage at a press event just a day before. The arrogance was astounding.
“Congratulations to MLS for this victory,” Guardiola said. “I expect they are going to invite us next year to make the revenge and I’m going to prepare a little bit better. Now we will be sure what’s going on, so we’ll prepare much better. Then we’ll do it. I hope our invitation is coming.”
It wasn’t. Guardiola’s act lost him plenty of fans that day – the irony being that the Spaniard was associated more than anyone in football management with class and form, considering the style with which his Barcelona teams played and carried themselves when he was their coach.
But there was a sad twist to this story. Porter is not an easy man to feel sympathy for. He’s hyper-competitive, brash, and has the charisma of a keychain.
But Porter idolized Guardiola more than any other man in soccer, and the look of heartbreak etched on his face when he was denied that handshake – on what should have been one of the most enjoyable nights of his career – was all too familiar. He looked like any kid who has been let down by his hero. Thing is, Porter wasn’t just let down. He was humiliated.
Porter’s own post-game comments were bashful, just as his coaching staff and much of the MLS fan-base in turns celebrated the victory and seethed over the snub. “You never like when a tackle goes wrong,” Porter said. “I thought the tackles that happened were unfortunate. It wasn’t like I was happy about them. But there are things that happen in a soccer game. There was no ill-intent in those plays.”
“I understand the frustration completely because they’re in preseason,” he went on to say. “I understand completely why there was some emotion there, but we certainly didn’t mean to do anything negative in the game. We have the utmost respect for Bayern, their players, Pep. This guy is an idol of mine.”
Since that fateful day, both men have encountered more frustrations than success. Guardiola’s Bayern won the Bundesliga last season, but also encountered injury, scandal, and a deeply disappointing European campaign that had many questioning the Spaniard’s place at the Allianz Arena.
All told, the shine is coming off of a man who could once do no wrong.
Porter, on the other hand, has mostly divorced himself of the stylish soccer – that Guardiola no doubt influenced – that won so many plaudits in Porter’s first season in MLS. Porter’s Timbers missed the playoffs last year, and are on the fringe this year, but in any case, the American has lost the wunderkind status he held very briefly after the 2013 season.
The non-handshake was an ugly and sad incident. It was a blot on one of the best nights that the All-Star show has ever produced. No one profited from it. And no one, as long as this event lives, will ever forget it.
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