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Pep and Jose attempt to douse derby flames

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – United manager Jose Mourinho and his City adversary Pep Guardiola sought to deflect attention from their sulphurous personal rivalry on the eve of Saturday’s mouthwatering Manchester derby.

Friends who became foes, the two men represent opposite ends of football’s ideological spectrum and came to be seen as sworn enemies during their time in Spain.

With both teams yet to drop a point in the Premier League, the contest at Old Trafford is an early opportunity to assert supremacy, but both men are reluctant to fan the flames.

“You want me to give you headlines and I want to go for lunch,” Mourinho, 53, told journalists when he was asked about his relationship with Guardiola on Friday.

Citing Saturday’s championship boxing showdown in London between Britain’s Kell Brook and Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin, Mourinho added: “You want a fight, but the fight is Brook against the Russian guy.

“It’s not us. It’s not me against him. It’s Man United against Man City.”

At a press conference that took place on the opposite side of Manchester at exactly the same time, Guardiola toed a similar line.

When the question of a post-match drink arose, the 45-year-old said: “I will accept if he invites me.

“I have said many times, I have a lot of respect for him. I always try to learn from all my colleagues and I learn from him as well. The rivalry is more the media.”

The two men revealed they recently met at a Premier League managers’ meeting, with Guardiola saying they spoke amicably.

It is two decades since their paths first crossed at Barcelona in the mid-1990s, when Guardiola was team captain and Mourinho worked as an assistant to Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal.

The pair became close, but they found themselves in opposition at Camp Nou in 2008 when Barcelona went in search of a new manager.

Despite Mourinho’s stellar achievements with Porto and Chelsea, he was overlooked in favour of the inexperienced Guardiola.

The Portuguese exacted sweet revenge two years later when Inter Milan knocked defending champions Barca out of the Champions League.

– Ibrahimovic spice –

In an iconic image, Mourinho raced across the Camp Nou pitch in celebration, his right hand provocatively raised in the air.

Mourinho’s appointment by Real Madrid that year brought him into regular confrontation with Guardiola.

Mourinho’s first Clasico ended in a humiliating 5-0 defeat and during a sequence of four encounters in two weeks later that season, the rivalry between the men turned ugly.

In the build-up to their Champions League semi-final, Mourinho’s acerbic comments prompted an angry, foul-mouthed response from the usually placid Guardiola.

That year’s Spanish Super Cup witnessed a new low in the relationship between the clubs as Mourinho poked Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye during a touchline shoving match.

Saturday’s meeting in the lunchtime game at Old Trafford will be their first encounter since 2013, when Guardiola’s Bayern Munich edged Mourinho’s Chelsea on penalties in the UEFA Super Cup.

Guardiola has won seven of their 16 encounters to Mourinho’s three.

The presence of the swaggering Zlatan Ibrahimovic in United’s forward line only adds spice to the blend.

Ibrahimovic, who has scored four goals in four games for United since joining from Paris Saint-Germain, has played for both men and has very different opinions about each of them.

Mourinho, he said, was someone he was “basically willing to die for” during their time at Inter, whereas he branded Guardiola, his coach at Barcelona, a “spineless coward”.

But Guardiola says he has “a lot of respect for Zlatan” and Mourinho rubbished suggestions the Swede will be motivated by a desire to right old wrongs.

“So Zlatan didn’t have the best period of his career (at Barcelona), but that’s fine,” Mourinho said.

“They are not enemies. We are not expecting Zlatan tomorrow to score a goal, run to Pep, sliding on his knees. That’s not going to happen.”

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