Of all the things the managers of Liverpool and Manchester City could disagree about, this one must carry amongst the lowest possible amounts of animosity.
Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp disagree over whether the former is the best coach in the world as both men spoke Friday ahead of Sunday’s monumental match in Manchester (watch live, 11:30am ET Sunday on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com)
No need for police and an arbitrator… this one’s not a fierce argument.
“Pep is the best coach in the world and we all would agree on that,” Klopp said. “If anybody doubts him, I have no idea how that could happen.”
Man City boss Guardiola took umbrage with Klopp’s labeling of the Catalan wizard as the best manager in the world on Friday ahead of their big Sunday meeting to (arguably) decide the 2021-22 Premier League season.
“I didn’t become a manager to be the best — I’m not,” Guardiola said. “Thank you so much, but I’m not. I’d like to say I’m the best, but I’m not.”
Klopp and Pep also traded ideas on what makes the rivalry special.
Klopp, Guardiola contextualize the Man City vs Liverpool rivalry like men’s tennis dominance of Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer
Jurgen Klopp is not going to go as far as to say he’s happy to compete with the best football team of the past 15 years, but he knows that he’s pushed Pep Guardiola and vice versa.
“In sport, I think what helps the most is a strong opponent. In the long term, especially,” Klopp said, drawing a comparison to the best men’s tennis players of this century. “I think Nadal and Federer enjoyed the rivalry they had. That’s how it is in sport. I wouldn’t say I’m thankful City is that good, but it didn’t harm our development.”
Guardiola was happier to discuss was the nature of the incredible rivalry between Man City and Liverpool than he was his status in the managerial world.
The two clubs have shown lasting dominance in the same league in a way we haven’t consistently seen since Guardiola’s Barcelona matched wits with Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho in the early part of the last decade.
So, about that tennis comparison, Pep?
“Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic was 20 years and we are five years,” Guardiola said as comparisons have been drawn to the best tennis players of this era. “Footballers run quicker and to maintain success is more difficult than other sports.
“When I remember my period here and watch and play golf I [will] remember here the biggest rivalry was Liverpool. When you achieve 100 points and 98 points you need someone to push from behind to be so close. You have to make another step. Our chairman and CEO, we want to grow. I’m sure Liverpool and other teams are going to try to do it.
“The most credit I give is consistency through the years. Both have had four or five years. That’s why Federer, Nadal, Djokovic have been at the top for so long. Arriving at these stages to win the titles, we try to do it.”
How does Pep Guardiola view Liverpool’s 2021-22 team?
“They make the pitch wider and higher, quality in the middle,” Guardiola said Friday. “Four, five years ago they were more direct, not too much between the lines. Now they have a good build-up with Alisson, Matip, Thiago drops. Threats in behind, Alexander-Arnold is like an exhibition, deep runners in behind. Set pieces, every corner is a threat.
“It’s fascinating, in this situation, we are fighting to be champions, fighting to be in the Champions League next season, that’s the most important title at the start of the season and hopefully our people will come back up. I’m sure our people will respond, they are ready to face it.”
Blowing smoke? Nah
It’s difficult to deny that Pep Guardiola is the best manager in the world given what he’s done this century, though Klopp, Antonio Conte, Max Allegri, and Julian Nagelsmann can’t be considered too far behind.
But these bosses definitely understand that the Man City vs Liverpool rivalry of the Guardiola-Klopp era lives in that special, rarefied air that we’ll only breathe a handful of times in our lifetimes.
Sunday’s going to be the latest example of an incredible match-up of brains, brawn, and massive money spent* and we’re here for it.
And both managers are grateful to have two worldly competitors who understand their place in this world… and that in the end, this is sport.
“Jurgen makes world football a better place to live,” Guardiola said. “A huge competitor, I think it’s good. He knows, we spoke together in Germany, the message and the way his teams play. He’s a good guy and I don’t have any problems with him.”
*by both teams, regardless of what the Liverpool boss and the club’s fans want to claim. Banter.