Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mourinho: Guardiola's exit 'changes nothing'

Josep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova

MADRID (AP) — Barcelona will remain Real Madrid's main rival next season even without coach Pep Guardiola, said Jose Mourinho, who bid farewell to his most difficult rival with a note of affection on Tuesday.

Current assistant coach Tito Vilanova is set to replace Guardiola from next season but Mourinho, speaking to the media ahead of a Spanish league match for the first time since early April, said that appointment "changes nothing."

"Vilanova will be the next coach and he will take over with full conviction. We know they are our great rival in the Spanish league," Mourinho said. "For us, this changes nothing."

Since Mourinho's arrival at Madrid in 2010, the matches between the two Spanish giants have veered into petulance with Mourinho poking Vilanova in the eye in a game last year that descended into a brawl.

Guardiola, usually a composed figured, even targeted Mourinho in a verbal tirade before the teams' Champions League semifinal last season.

But on Tuesday, Mourinho wished Guardiola well ahead of his planned sabbatical.

"The Guardiola case is a personal decision, he knows why (he's leaving)," Mourinho said. "What's most important is that he is happy with his decision. I hope he enjoys it because that's what matters most in life. If for him to be happy he has to leave football, then that's how it has to be. I send him a hug."

Madrid will seal its first Spanish league title since Guardiola's arrival — and a record 32nd — with a victory at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday. That would make Mourinho the first coach to win titles in Spain, England, Italy and Portugal.

On players for next season, Mourinho said Kaka and Gonzalo Higuain fit into his plans despite reports the pair will be sold.

"I want to keep everyone," the Portuguese coach said.

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