Jose Mourinho has paid tribute to Arsene Wenger in a case of foes turning friends
Arsene Wenger rightly gained a lot of attention after being conferred with the Laureus Lifetime Achievement award on Monday, but what caught the eye even more was the fact that he got a glowing tribute from the unlikeliest of sources in Jose Mourinho. Wenger won the award thanks to his undeniable efforts in revolutionising English football and it’s culture, especially over the first part of his two decades-plus long career in charge of Arsenal.
The veteran manager and Mourinho clashed often, both on and off the touchline, and shared a rather frosty relationship during their time managing two giants of English football. However, Mourinho — sacked by Manchester United in December — had only glowing thing say about Wenger via a video.
The temperamental Portuguese, who had two spells at Chelsea and then the turbulent one at United, accepted that there had been moments when the two experienced heads had been at odds with each other. And it came to a head when the 69-year-old pushed Mourinho on the touchline during the latter’s second period in charge of Chelsea, and the Portugese made some barbed remarks about the studious Frenchman, commenting he was a “voyeur” and a “specialist in failure”.
“There were some episodes along the road,” said Mourinho. “I can only speak by myself. I really enjoyed the competition. But the real respect is always there. He (Wenger) made lots of history in that football club. One of the best football managers in the history of football.”
Wenger, a virtual unknown who proved to be an inspirational choice by then Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein after being hired in 1996, won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, apart from a host of other gongs. And his greatest achievement, perhaps, was the title-winning side of the 2003/04 campaign who went through the league season unbeaten. “The nickname is there — the Invincibles,” said Mourinho. “Amazing. A coaching philosophy, the almost perfect team.”
Wenger, still in demand despite a turbulent last few years at the Emirates as seen with his links to several jobs since leaving Arsenal, admitted he had been taken aback when he watched the video at the awards ceremony. “That is a very good question,” he replied as to what was the biggest surprise the award or Mourinho praising him. “It was a surprise yes. We had some good fights at times.”
What was even more unexpected was that the man on the touchline won an award. “An even bigger surprise is usually the lifetime achievement award goes to a Pele, a Maradona or a Beckenbauer. Tonight it is a player from a little village but it is good that coaches are rewarded in our game.”
A major recipes of success for Wenger was tearing up the book on the players diet when he arrived at Arsenal and introducing healthy eating habits, which he conceded were not universally accepted. “I forbade them eating Mars bars,” said the man who still has the “virus” of football in his blood and wakes up every morning wondering what match is on that night.
“So at first I was greeted on the team coach with chants of ‘we want our Mars bars’. They did not get them. Today it shows how much football has changed you would never hear footballers demanding Mars bars.”
For all his faults and failings during the latter years of his reign at the Emirates, one cannot disagree that Wenger deserves this award as much as, or even more, than anyone else, and any football lover would be happy to have seen him being conferred with such a prestigious award. And the video of Jose praising him and appearing to bury the hatchet must have shocked most of the footballing world, not just the old man himself, and has shades of the way Sir Alex Ferguson and Wenger himself learned to respect and admire each other as the years went by, despite all those years of bickering, war, finger wagging and the fight for league glory. Now to see what the future holds for both the Frenchman and his Portugese counterpart.