Kolkata: It’s going to be a meeting of two of the sharpest minds in football with Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel at the rival dugouts at the Uefa Champions League final in Porto on Saturday. The two, however, share a mutual respect about their craft - rather than acrimony - and it’s source lies during their tenure in Bundesliga some seven years back.
Guardiola had then moved on to Bayern Munich after a phenomenal run at Barcelona while Tuchel was then with Borussia Dortmund. They used to hang out in a Munich restaurant where the duo famously talked tactics for hours - using salt-and-pepper shakers as props and were so animated that waiters were too afraid to interrupt.
There is simply not the same professional friction that exists between Guardiola and his most prominent recent rivals, Jurgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino, or the outright acrimony created in the wake of Guardiola’s Clasico clashes with Jose Mourinho.
The 47-year-old German tactician calls Guardiola - few years his senior - the ‘benchmark’ in modern coaching and with good reasons. The much-decorated Spanish manager is looking to win the 27th major trophy (excluding Spanish Super Cups and English Community Shields) of his 13-year coaching career. It’s his third Champions League final - a first in 10 years though- and he won his first two at Barcelona during their heydays.
Tuchel, on the other hand, became the first coach to reach back-to-back finals in the continental competition with different clubs, having lost last year’s title to Bayern with Paris Saint-Germain.
For the statistically minded fans, Guardiola just about has an edge in their head-to-head record with four wins in seven matches, two to Tuchel and a draw. The eighth one in Porto, of course, will be the defining one. The pair are so tactically astute that there is a feeling that they are prone to overthinking in big matches. Indeed, whoever has more clarity in his thinking is likely to emerge victorious.
“He’s a friend of mine,” the Manchester City boss said when Tuchel took over at Chelsea from Frank Lampard in January. Little did they know that four months down the line, they would be matching wits in club football’s biggest game.
Past performances may count for nothing, but Guardiola may be a trifle concerned that Tuchel’s younger outfit had pipped them on both their last meetings - first at the FA Cup semi-final and then in a concluding match of Premier League.
Whoever wins on Saturday, it must be admitted that a new rivalry between two super coaches of this generation is already underway!