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Sunday, March 4, 2012
Pep and Jose should swap sides

Alexander Netherton

Only the most one-eyed wonder any longer whether this generation of Barcelona are the greatest club team of all time, yet the title has all but been awarded to Real Madrid by complacent default. At this point, Guardiola's first serious failure to meet expectations, you might expect the knives to be out. Now, with Jose Mourinho delivering what Real Madrid fans could only dream of last year, you might also expect endless jeroboams and prophylactics to be sent his way by his bosses. The reality though, is that Barcelona want to keep the prevaricating Guardiola while Mourinho faces internal struggles, perhaps ultimately forcing him out. There's an easy solution to all this wrangling. The two managers should simply swap seats: Guardiola styling it at Real Madrid, and Mourinho poking eyes at Barcelona. Both teams and both managers would benefit. At Real Madrid, Mourinho is not lacking Euros. He may come up against the buffers in the quest for an extra striker, but he's not exactly short. Amongst others, he has been able to bring in Sami Khedira, Nuri Sahin, Ricardo Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao, Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil. In the future, with Real's turnover, they will continue to spend extensively even under Financial Fair Play. Guardiola, on the other hand, has seen his transfer clout diminish despite his own increasing returns. In the summer of 2011, Barcelona took out a loan of over 100 million to pay wages, and were only able to buy Cesc Fabregas - a 50 million player by anyone else's judgement - because of the cloying emotional facade to a business deal. Mourinho wouldn't necessarily need the huge money available at Real to re-establish Barcelona. The number of reports stressing Mourinho's team building abilities make any further demonstration unnecessary. Adding to Cech, Terry and Lampard with the signing of Drogba he created the most durable spine of the Premier League era. At Inter he did something similar with Cesar, Lucio, Sneijder and Eto'o. At Barcelona plenty of the replacements are already there in the reserves. The emotional ties players claim to have for Barcelona would only help Mourinho create his desired team spirit. There is no reason to doubt he could create a new foundation to rejuvenate ambition in a team that occasionally seems happy to go through the, admittedly impressive, motions. Perhaps a fantasy rather than a blueprint, but Catalonia's Jose would give the neutral the most enjoyable sights in history. He'd force the tiki-taka students to grind out soulless, relentless, 1-0 victory after 1-0 victory. Messi, occasionally forgetting himself and assisting a Xavi goal, backheeling a through ball after a saucy 40-yard stepover slalom, would be chided with, 'Hey! we don't want to win this 4-0.' Iniesta would be reduced to 10-minute cameos, replacing Barca's new penalty hero, Frank Lampard. A ridiculous idea, but there are signs that their possession football is in need of something novel. Barcelona's ennui is now their biggest weakness. Few great teams manage to dominate football for longer than three years, and Barcelona appear only slightly different. That difference is that they remain the favourite for the Champions League, though, no they can longer match their rival's consistency. Mourinho would change that. At Chelsea, he created a team so relentless that youth development took a hit in England. No longer could Manchester United and others afford to blood youngsters so indulgently, the margin of error had withered. His switching between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, resting in possession and ability to take three points instead of one, displays his desire for the league as a priority. At Inter, he saw off a challenge from the first true post-Calciopoli title race, the greatest enemy proving a journalist's chin rather than any other team. He could wrest back his own title. Guardiola would change more fundamentally. Real have long wanted to improve their youth production line, their Pavons never hit the heights of Barca's Pedros. With Mourinho this is impossible, but Guardiola is steeped in the culture of La Masia. There would be nobody better to overhaul Madrid's youth system. If Real Madrid lack anything in their team, it is a true local hero. Josep 'Pep' Guardiola would finally solve Real Madrid's fans' inferiority complexes on more than that front. Madrid are winning this league playing football that demanded their boos; barely attempting to play in the first two Clasicos of the season. Guardiola offers a commitment to a style of football that most people adore, and he would give Ronaldo the chance to become a great team-mate as well as a great player. Beyond the pitch, Guardiola offers another advantage. Real Madrid make a great play of their worldwide reach in order to maximise revenue. As good as Ronaldo is, Real have something of the night about them. Pepe is a thug in boots. The rest of his team are more excellently effective than skilfully glamorous. Guardiola, though, has lead Barcelona to be internationally feted. It makes business sense for Real Madrid's style and attitude to match the PR claims. On the other hand, Mourinho could add steel to a fey Barcelona. They are attacked for their playacting through the antics of Busquets and Alves, whereas Fabregas was alleged to have done something far worse to Frederic Kanoute this season. Mourinho would be able to draw the attention away from the players' transgressions by accepting the negative press as part of his role. The fuss about Barca's diving would be diverted to whatever Mourinho had decided to get up to on the sidelines, either lobbing sweets at a manager, or making a pass at the assistant referee. More practically, with Makelele and Materazzi, Mourinho's always been able to make the best of the less attractive parts of the game. So just imagine what he could do with Busquets. Both sides would benefit; football's most intense rivalry of the last two years would have an incredible new angles. Weaknesses would be addressed and staid players would be challenged. It won't happen, but it definitely should.

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