The rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid will only intensify this season because of their two coaches. Pep Guardiola versus Jose Mourinho represents one of the most intriguing battles in football. The pair hold a mutual esteem and have much in common, with both being relatively young (Guardiola is 40, Mourinho 47) and renowned for their good looks and sartorial elegance. They play the media to their advantage and command absolute respect and admiration from their charges. They are also winners.
They worked at Camp Nou in the late 1990s when Mourinho was assistant to Bobby Robson, the then Barca manager. That role has long been derided in Catalonia as a mere "translator" - an unfair label for the voracious learner who was excelling in his football education. Unlike Guardiola, Mourinho was never a top player who could enter football's higher coaching echelons and so he had to work his way up.
Real's legions are convinced that Mourinho is the man who can successfully challenge Barca's hegemony and put them back on the same path which led them to dominate European football in the 1950s and win the competition three times between 1998 and 2002. Pitifully for a club of their stature, Madrid have failed to get beyond the first knockout stage in each of the last six seasons. Mourinho's motivation in leaving Inter Milan, a team he led to the Champions League title, was that: "I want to become the only coach to win the Champions League with three different clubs."
He will be paid ?10 million (Dh46.7m) a year after tax, making him football's highest-paid coach as he chases Real's elusive 10th European Cup. They have won the competition more times than any other club, but winning the Primera Liga will be just as important, for as Barca's Gerard Pique said: "The first priority of Barca and Madrid is always to win the league title. Everything else is a bonus." Guardiola won the league and the Champions League in his first season as Barca coach and also won both as a player. That he is overseeing an established, settled and successful side makes Barca slight favourites. For Barca, this campaign is about continuity and fending off the challenge from their greatest rivals who pushed them, but who they beat home and away last season.
Guardiola mixes discipline with cutting his players enough slack to gain their respect. Fall foul of his regime by turning up late for training too many times and you will be sidelined. The team is bigger than any individual and he has been strong enough to cast aside world class talents like Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o. Mourinho is doing his dirty work now. He has already closed a room which hangers-on and players' mates used while the squad trained and replaced it with a quiet zone for players to spend time relaxing after training. The media are no longer invited to travel with the team to games as Mourinho attempts to plug the leaks which have sprung from Real's dressing room for years.
Mourinho has taken control of that dressing room. For too long, the real power at the Bernabeu lay with a coterie of senior players. If his work at Porto, Chelsea and Inter is anything to go by, the remaining players will defer completely to their coach and want to do anything for him. Mourinho has also made it clear to Florentino Perez, the Real president, that he alone picks the team. Perez needs Mourinho more than the Portuguese Special One needs Real. Overcoming Barca is a tough task, but if anyone can get the best from Real's expensively assembled world class talents then it will be Mourinho, doing it resolutely his way.