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Comment: Simon Yates is the Pep Guardiola to Team Sky's Jose Mourinho

Joe Robinson
18 Sep 2018

As a new star of British cycling rises, sceptical fans are offered an entertaining alternative to Team Sky

If the metronomic victories of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome at consecutive Grand Tours can be compared to any other sporting achievement, it can be the serial success of Jose Mourinho (before his second spell of management at Chelsea and troubled time at Manchester United, mind).

A pragmatic approach to victory, a controversial figure captaining the ship and an approach that divides opinion straight down the middle. Dave Brailsford's Team Sky is just like Mourinho's Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

And thankfully, for the sake of this metaphor, Britain's latest cycling star, Vuelta a Espana champion Simon Yates, has found himself moulding into a two-wheeled version of Mourinho's arch nemesis Pep Guardiola. 

This isn't a piece building a faux rivalry between Yates's Mitchelton-Scott and Team Sky, rather a look at the similarities between two of English football's mammoth managers and British cycling's biggest Grand Tour stars.

'Three Premier Leagues and I won more Premier Leagues alone than the other 19 managers together'


Mourinho, the untouchable. A divider of opinions but also a serial winner, just like Dave Brailsford

Team Sky have the air of a Jose Mourinho-led side. Not the tired Mourinho that is limping Manchester United through their post-Ferguson slump but the all-conquering Mourinho who collected multiple league and European titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. 

Team Sky's Grand Tour victories are rarely something spectacular. They are meticulously-planned ambushes for victory that leave little to the imagination.

Before the race, their ambitions will be clear - victory on General Classification - much like the crystal intention of Mourinho sides of the past, to win the league.

Both also built their success on defence. Froome's Giro title being the exception to the rule, Team Sky usually take hold of the race within the opening week, building an unassailable lead before the mountains have even been contested. 

They then defend that lead, often sucking the remaining life out of any opponents before they yield their chance of victory in the final few days.

Mourinho's first Premier League title at Chelsea in 2005 was built from a team that conceded just 15 goals all season, sucking the life from their more attacking rivals.

It's also seldom that Team Sky enter a Tour de France with a weaker side than their opponents. They usually arrive with seven (previously eight) experienced campaigners, all well-versed in leading their leader to the line. 

The Team Sky train is frightening when fully-functioning

Look at the likes of Vasil Kiryenka, Mikel Nieve and Wout Poels. Riders who time and time again provided a backbone of support for Wiggins, Froome and most recently, Thomas. They are not the most glamorous names but they get the job done.

Mourinho is no different in building a title winning team. A Chelsea side spearheaded by Cech, Terry, Lampard through to Drogba or an Inter side starting with Cesar through to Samuel, Cambiasso with Sneijder and Eto'o dominated their leagues, producing pragmatic and effective 'winning' football.

Parallels also exist in management styles. Mourinho is happy to take the flak for his side's misfortunes by often bringing the attention upon himself.

Just look recently at his 'three Premier League titles' meltdown. Perfectly orchestrated to take the heat away from his stuttering team. 

Brailsford, like Mourinho, is always happy to take the pressure off of his riders

Pretty similar to Dave Brailsford's 'French cultural' comments. A swipe at the French public's treatment of Froome post-salbutamol investigation that helped take the heat off his team and transfer it onto his own shoulders. 

Like Mourinho, Brailsford's Sky is also expert in dividing opinion. Look beyond the UK and you will struggle to find admiration for the British WorldTour team.

His approach to professional cycling can be considered 'bullying' and their use of money has pricked traditionalists across the English Channel. 

But that doesn't bother Brailsford as Team Sky continue to win, and win well, which is enough for the fans and British neutrals to continue their support.

Old Mourinho was no different with the much-spoken phrase of 'if he is not on your team you'll hate him, but if he is on your team you'll love him' following him across Europe.

Tika-taka cycling

As for Yates, he has the air of Guardiola on him. 

Yates has etched his style from an attacking mould, which he is unwilling to waver from. First at the Giro d'Italia in which he went on the offensive from the off.

Aware he needed to bank time ahead of capable time triallists Tom Dumoulin and eventual winner Froome, he used any given opportunity to attack. 

This led to three stage victories and thirteen days in pink but also his dramatic capitulation on Stage 19. 

Yates was prepared to use the same method at the Vuelta - attack is the best form of defence - best optimised by his assault on Stage 19's summit finish to the Coll de la Rabassa.

In the race lead, Yates gambled by attacking early but, unlike the Giro, it paid off effectively as he rode all the way to the Vuelta title.

At the peak of their powers, Barcelona were untouchable

This is comparable to Pep's high-press, tika-taka football that was so effective for Barcelona in both La Liga and the Champions League, culminating in three domestic titles and two European titles, yet unravelled empathically at Bayern Munich with a 5-0 aggregate loss to old foes Real Madrid. 

Both Yates and Guardiola stuck by their styles, despite the criticism and their misfortunes, proving persistence pays off with Yates at the Vuelta and Guardiola and his record-breaking Manchester City side. 

This persistence for an entertaining style has also helped attract the attention of the neutral with both Yates and Guardiola often rooted for by those unbound to a particular team, unlike Mourinho and Team Sky who are often regarded as boring, negative influences on their sport.

Not just their style of play, popularity with the neutral has also been bolstered by both with their transparency, something that is largely absent for Team Sky and Mourinho.

Mitchelton-Scott were long adored for their eye into pro cycling with YouTube series 'Backstage Pass' and Manchester City gave a peek into their world recently with the Amazon documentary 'All or Nothing'.

A loveable team from Down Under

It's a case of similar for the good but also for the bad for Yates and Guardiola, however, as both have been brushed with the tar of doping.

Yates having served a six-month ban for terbutaline -albeit through an administrive error - and Guardiola being followed by German doctors throwing accusations, doping fines and a failed doping test while playing for Brescia in Italy.

A similarity that both will want burying but a clear similarity nonetheless. The question is now, will these similarities continue to run their course?

Will Team Sky begin to crumble as their meticulous method becomes unveiled, just like that of Jose Mourinho, and can Yates persevere with risky tactics to take more than just a solitary Vuelta?