Arsene Wenger was the subject of a three-pronged attack from familiar managerial foes yesterday.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce and Jose Mourinho have long had their differences with the Arsenal manager but, quite separately, they rounded on a man whose crusade for "pure football" has got under a number of tracksuits.
To Allardyce, he was a man who had fatally changed tactics and in doing so lost the art of winning trophies. To Ferguson, he had shown a marked lack of respect to Paul Scholes when he accused the Manchester United midfielder of "possessing a dark side". To Mourinho, whose dislike of Wenger is intense, he was a "hypocrite".
As he prepared to take Arsenal to Ewood Park, one of those clichéd "tough northern grounds" where his young players are supposed to either sink or swim, Wenger accused Stoke of employing "rugby tactics" against Tottenham last weekend. A manager of Arsenal is not supposed to be overly concerned with the welfare of Spurs players but Wenger mentioned it because these are precisely the tactics he expects Allardyce to employ at Blackburn this afternoon.
They have proved remarkably successful. Arsenal have won just eight of the 21 encounters between Wenger and Allardyce and the loss of a two-goal lead at Bolton in April 2003 proved the decisive moment in the tussle with Manchester United for the championship.
"We should never beat Arsenal but we do. It is not because of rugby tactics but, until the game becomes a non-contact sport, the physical side is very important," said Allardyce.
"I should remind Arsène about his own team that used to win the championship. It was the dirtiest team in the League. When they used to win the League they did it with more sendings-off and bookings than anyone else. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Sol Campbell and Martin Keown would mix it any way you wanted to.
"His change of tactics from that day to this are quite remarkable. He has gone from that team and changed it into one bred on getting the ball down and passing and moving. We all agree it is the most pleasing football anyone can watch but it is still not as good as the team he used to have when he won the League and the Cup."
It is five years since Wenger's last piece of silverware, the 2005 FA Cup, a match in which Arsenal found themselves entirely outplayed by Manchester United, although they clung on for a penalty shoot-out, won when Scholes failed with his spot-kick.
The relationship between Ferguson and Wenger, which was once so glacial, has warmed considerably since then, although the Arsenal manager joked this was because "he no longer sees me as a threat".
Nevertheless, Ferguson thought it odd that Wenger had accused Scholes of "having a dark side" to his game. "I don't know why Arsène Wenger said that," said Ferguson. "I know he is not the world's best tackler but he has not injured anyone in his time here. It is very easy to look into the dark side of any player.
"I could say the same of one of Arsenal's players but I don't need to. He should focus on someone who has made a phenomenal contribution to English football over an 18-year period."
In Madrid, Mourinho said he thought it hypocritical that any manager put style before winning and, although he did not name Wenger, it was clear to whom he was referring. "If you don't play well, you don't win," he said. "It is hypocrisy to say: 'We played well but we did not win.' They claim they had bad luck, that they had 90 per cent of possession or lost a goal to a last-minute set-piece. I sometimes think these coaches must be so much more intelligent than me. When I lose I always find the reason why. We lost because we played badly, because we made mistakes or because the opposition was better."
Asked if he was referring to Wenger, Mourinho said: "There is a coach whose teams have been playing fantastically for 10 years and his players are always young. It is always a very young team that never wins anything. For me this is hypocrisy."
The problem with Arsene: Three managers have their say
Ferguson on Wenger
'I could say the same about one of Arsenal's players having a dark side. He should focus on Scholes' phenomenal 18-year contribution'
Mourinho on Wenger
'There is a coach whose teams have been playing fantastically for 10 years and his players are always young. A young team that never wins anything'
Allardyce on Wenger
'His own team that used to win the championship was the dirtiest team in the League with more sendings-off and bookings than anyone else'Reuse content