Two days after the Manchester derby skirmish in the tight Old Trafford tunnel, the managers of United and City went on the defensive on Tuesday.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were separated by 10 miles (16 kilometers), staging near simultaneous news conferences, as they defended the conduct of their teams.
A tentative Mourinho was far less assertive than he was reported to be in the heat of Sunday’s incident that further inflamed the rivalry between the English Premier League’s top two.
Mourinho, renowned for his spats, histrionics, and animated touchline antics, was incensed by City’s raucous celebrations after winning on United territory.
After initially refusing to discuss the 2-1 loss and trying to force reporters to ask about Wednesday’s game against Bournemouth, Mourinho couldn’t resist speaking out at United’s Carrington complex.
“The only thing I can say is that for me it was just a question of diversity,” Mourinho said, “diversity in behaviors, diversity in education. Just that and nothing more than that.”
Certainly nothing more once a United communications official blocked further questions on the confrontation that saw milk and water thrown at Mourinho and is now being investigated by the Football Association.
Across Manchester, Guardiola sought to diffuse the row.
“If we were not correct, or something like that,” Guardiola said, “then I apologize to all of Manchester United. Our intentions were not that. Our intentions were to celebrate, inside the locker room, our happiness because we were happy. If the people cannot understand that then I’m sorry.
“We were so happy, we won a derby. If in that way we offended United – not just one player, not (just) Jose – then I apologize. We have huge respect for our opponent. Not just Manchester United, all the opponents.”
Still, Guardiola was perplexed Mourinho questioned City’s right – within their dressing room – to revel in victory that took the team 11 points clear of United at the Premier League summit. City assistant coach Mikel Arteta sustained a cut on his forehead in the melee that erupted around the doorway to City’s dressing room, where loud music was playing.
“We won a derby against Manchester United, at that moment the biggest rival,” Guardiola said. “So people expect we are not going to celebrate? No. We celebrate. When United win a derby they celebrate, when Arsenal win against United they celebrate. When United or Arsenal win the FA Cup they celebrate. But where? Inside the locker room. That’s what we do and we did.”
The clashes remain the talk of the Premier League.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was not surprised tensions spilled over at Old Trafford, recalling his own experiences as a player at Paris Saint-Germain around 15 years ago.
“Against Ajaccio at halftime I remember a massive fight in the tunnel,” Pochettino said. “You didn’t see but they was fighting between us. It was terrible. Sometimes it happens.
“Was I hurt? No, I was clever. It was tough. After you are scared a little bit because it was like we were animals fighting and you do not know what happened.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose team was embroiled in an altercation at United in 2004 dubbed the “Battle of the Buffet,” would prefer less zealous celebrations from winning teams.
“It’s an experience that’s a little bit offensive,” Wenger said. “It’s part of the intensity and importance of the games, sometimes it can go a bit overboard.”
It is a habit that will be hard to change, accepts Wenger, who admires the approach in sumo wrestling.
“In sumo you never can tell who the guy who wins is,” said the former manager of Japanese side Grampus Eight. “He doesn’t show his happiness because of respect for his opponents and that shows how deep the culture is there for the respect for each other.
“Is it something you can copy (in the Premier League)? I don’t think so because it’s not part of our culture.”
More AP Premier League coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/PremierLeague
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports