Jose Mourinho-Arsene Wenger feud is not sporting, but keeps alive raw spirit of competition - Sam Wallace


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The Independent Football

You suspect that there is part of Jose Mourinho which, on occasions of defeat, would very much like to be able to stare enigmatically into the middle distance, answer questions diplomatically and leave the room with no one much the wiser about his true feelings. He could be the Bob Dylan of the Premier League – wise, unknowable, ancient. Leaving his work, as all the greats would like, to speak for itself.

But this is Mourinho, 15 years into this jaw-dropping career of his, where so many enemies have been accumulated, so many narratives launched that every game, every defeat, every controversy, has to be unpacked and explained on his terms. It would be easier just to leave it, but then why leave it when there is still some small psychological advantage to be wrung out of shaking the hand of every Arsenal player?

On the other side is Arsène Wenger, coming down the Wembley steps to see what he regards as Mourinho’s handshake trap over the shoulders of his players, and with that familiar expression of disdain – eyes narrowed, chin drawn in, a “pffff” on his lips – he drops a shoulder and cuts left, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain jinking inside Cesar Azpilicueta.

While Wenger’s players seemed, on the whole, unexpectedly delighted to grasp the hand of the Chelsea manager, Wenger instantly detected the possibility of playing a supporting role in another man’s production. You got the impression that he would sooner have chest-bumped Stamford the Lion than grasped Mourinho’s hand.

A confession: I enjoyed it all. Every last drop of enmity between two grown men behaving badly, and the unwillingness on both sides to back down. It was the same with the shoving and tie-flicking at Stamford Bridge in October. Neither of them really wants to do it, the problem is that something inside them compels them and that something is the essence of the competition alive and well in a game saturated with money.

Roy Keane’s weekend assault on the six-pack and selfies culture at Arsenal had, like every Keane interview, the hallmarks of a man who watches modern football in a state of perpetual rage. But, like most things Keane says, there was also an essential truth in there and if there was a flaw in his argument then it was to confine the conversation to Arsenal. Mourinho.jpg

There is a reason that the half-time shirt exchange, or the casual pre-match tunnel hug for an old pal on the other team, are a modern phenomenon. They exist because the imperative to win is not so immediate since everyone got rich. We try to explain them away as a new generation’s attitude toward sport, but there is a simple equation at play. Life is good in the Premier League and the mistake of some is to assume they are part of some blockbuster Hollywood production rather than a sporting tradition.

The Premier League of 2015 has money enough for everyone, but only one trophy. When the league holds its annual media launch Wednesday morning at a school in south-west London there will doubtless be questions as to why these two famous managers cannot get along better. In an ideal world, we might have the competition as well as the handshakes, but if we had to choose one I would take the loathing and the rivalry every time.

What Mourinho and Wenger represent is an uncomfortable truth about winning. Sometimes it can just look ugly. Not every great manager can be as cuddly as, say, Bob Paisley. Often it is – and let’s not beat around the bush – the bastard who comes out on top. Wenger and Mourinho have never hesitated to put a premium on their services but, given the choice between the proverbial solid gold top hat and, say, the Capital One Cup, you get the feeling they would take the latter every time.

As for their players, retreating to the dressing room to Instagram their latest triumph or defeat, most will never quite grasp what it is that drives their managers on. A simple history lesson would suffice. On one side there is Wenger, the non-league footballer who had that one season of glory as a bit-part player at Strasbourg. On the other, Mourinho, the PE teacher from Setubal, son of a second division coach, who knew that if someone just gave him a chance anything was possible. It is no surprise he intends to keep doing this into his seventies. What else is there for him?

For the rest of us, the behaviour can invite derision but the raw competitive spirit is an essential part of what makes the show so good. It is why Sky Sports’ new Thierry Henry commercial features, among the great goals, the footage of Keane lambasting Patrick Vieira in the Highbury tunnel. The Football Association might care about its “Respect” campaign but not so much that it got greater promotion than page 66 of Sunday’s match-day programme.

No one would argue that Mourinho and Wenger set an example for sportsmanship on Sunday, but it simply told us that two inflexible personalities, set in opposition and obsessed with winning, are likely to throw up some awkward moments. The only problem is our failure to recognise that, however squeamish some get about it, the rivalry is germane to the competition itself.

A licence to print money with freshly minted merchandise

The season of the kit launch is just passed, and amid the annual febrile rehashing of an item of clothing designed, in most cases, in excess of 100 years ago, there are some moments that stand out. Phil Jones smashing stuff with a trident was a particular favourite of mine, especially imagining the crew on set all wearing crash helmets and body armour. So too the colour palette of Thibaut Courtois’ new Chelsea goalkeeper kit, “vivid mint”. An apt description if ever there was, for the money-making machine that is the modern Premier League.

Soldado condemned in Spurs twilight by prolific past stats

Time seems to be drawing in on the Tottenham career of Roberto Soldado who, for much of his challenging two years at White Hart Lane, has resembled one of those sad-looking Second World War POWs you see in old newsreels: slicked-back hair, all escape attempts failed, resigned to sitting out the war. He scored 24 league goals for Valencia in the season before Spurs signed him. That same year Alvaro Negredo scored 25 for Seville and Radamel Falcao hit 28 for Atletico Madrid. Proof indeed, you need more evidence than just the numbers for a successful Premier League signing.

An offer too good to refuse for everyone but the player

As summer transfers go, defender Yohan Benalouane gets full marks for honesty over his £5.6m move to Leicester from Atalanta in Serie A, whose training ground he claims to have departed in tears. “I didn’t want to leave Atalanta and would gladly have stayed,” he said, “but an offer of €8m is a lot for a club like Atalanta.” We await with interest his thoughts on Leicester.