Wenger insists that 'winning is not everything'

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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger yesterday accused some managers of having "cheated" their way to success and said that winning trophies wasn't everything. In a passionate defence of his approach to the game, and the morals which he believes underpin that, the Arsenal manager attacked those who wanted to win at all costs.

"I know many people who have won trophies and I don't rate them at all," Wenger said. "I can give you examples of people who have won 100 metre medals in the Olympic games and they have cheated. I know people in football who have done exactly the same. That is the history of football.

"What is important for me is to play in a fair way and in a way that people will enjoy. In a minute, of course, a trophy is what you can show, but what remains is not only the trophy; the way you play, the way you behave. These are also important. To win trophies is important but that is not the only thing in sport."

Wenger was speaking in response to Jose Mourinho's cheap criticism of him on Thursday when the former Chelsea manager said his old rival had a "unique" team because he has not won a trophy for three years "but he's an idol". While at pains to stress that he wasn't referring to Mourinho – "I let people talk and I'll talk for myself," he said – Wenger set out the dangers of the type of win-at-all-costs and by-whatever-means-possible philosophy which is certainly followed by the Portuguese.

"Winning cannot be everything," Wenger said. "To destroy people can never be everything. I do not understand those who come out to destroy people, that is not what life is about. Why should you always have to kill other people to exist? If you do that then somewhere, you feel you are not good enough."

Wenger was always the manager who got under Mourinho's skin more than any other in England – partly because, having taken his team through a league season unbeaten in the campaign before the latter arrived at Chelsea – he was identified as the main threat to his ambitions.

Their rivalry was distasteful and petty at times but especially so when Mourinho referred to Wenger as a "voyeur". At the heart of it was a different philosophy about football. Mourinho had nothing but disdain for Arsenal's approach, often referring to their matches, and the scorelines, as being like games of hockey. He also saw nothing wrong in personal attacks and considered them part of the game, boasting about their effect.

Wenger – along with Sir Alex Ferguson – is indeed in a special position but given their record of success and the football their teams play, it is one that they have earned. As for trophies Wenger can point to three league titles and four FA Cups (including winning the double twice ) during his decade at Arsenal, although no one would dispute Mourinho's success either. Wenger has also followed, increasingly, a belief in developing a young and relatively inexpensive squad of players.

"I give you my opinion," Wenger said when asked why he was so emphatic. "Someone else might say not to win trophies means you are no one. For me sport is more than that. If it [not winning trophies] is not enough then that's not my problem. I try to do my job as well as I can. If it's not good enough people will tell me." With his team leading the Premier League, albeit by a single point, and in the last eight of the European Cup, Wenger is closer than he has recently been to landing silverware but he denied that this meant more was expected of him.

"I don't feel under more pressure to win trophies this year than any other," Wenger said. His belief in his young team received a rich affirmation on Tuesday when they dumped the holders Milan out of the Champions League with Wenger saying they "are up for" the season's run-in.

"This is a team that does not have an artificial hunger but is really hungry for success," he said. "We are up for it and we will fight until the end. I'm 100 per cent convinced in my belief." Asked what he meant by "artificial", Wenger explained: "You know as a journalist you get a speech you want to hear but this team really means it."

Arsenal travel to Wigan tomorrow with Wenger describing the match as a "clash of cultures. But that's the beauty of the game and shows the real strength of the championship, because you face different kinds of opponents, and the good teams always find a response to the problems they face." Among those will be the poor state of the pitch at the JJB, with Wenger admitting that he "hoped" it wouldn't prevent Arsenal from playing their usual style of football.