Wenger rejects Mourinho card of friendship

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The Independent Online

After a year of rancorous exchanges and personal insults it hardly seemed possible that the feuding between Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger could become any more bitter but, in an extraordinary new twist to their relationship, the two managers have now fallen out in a dispute over the exchange of Christmas cards.

In a stand-off that threatens to become even more ludicrous than that caused by Mourinho's accusations that his rival was a "voyeur", the Chelsea manager is now said to be furious at Wenger for failing to reciprocate the sentiments of a Christmas card he sent him. The two men did not shake hands before or after Chelsea's 2-0 victory at Highbury on Sunday and sources at Stamford Bridge say that Mourinho is angry at Wenger's rejection of his attempts to make peace through the traditional route of an official club Christmas card.

The basis to this latest extraordinary dispute lies in Mourinho's attack on Wenger on 31 October in which he accused the Arsenal manager of being " sad" and a "voyeur" who had become obsessed with criticising his London rivals. Later Mourinho was said to be shocked when it was pointed out to him that Wenger might have believed the comments were intended to relate to unpleasant untruths spread about the Arsenal manager eight years ago.

Wenger responded by threatening to sue Mourinho and the Chelsea manager made the first move for peace that same week. Although Wenger has said recently that he has no intention of pursuing legal action, Mourinho is understood to have sought to draw a line under the affair this month by writing a personal note in a Christmas card to the Arsenal manager.

As is his way, Mourinho signed 19 Christmas cards to his fellow Premiership managers but only in Wenger's card did he write a personal note. A source at the club said that the message had been intended to be conciliatory.

The source said: "Jose wrote something along the lines of: 'The words I used about you were not intended to harm you personally, I hope you can believe that. If they did harm you I am sorry, but that was never my intention.'"

The Christmas card was one of those released as a joint venture between Chelsea and the children's cancer charity CLIC Sargent and designed by young fans - but it was not reciprocated. Before the disclosure of this latest dispute, Wenger said, in an aside during Friday's press briefing, that he did not send Christmas cards - "it's an English custom," he explained. However, even the famously prescient Arsenal manager could not have foreseen the chaos that this breach of tradition would precipitate.

Matters were made worse on Sunday when, before the game, a member of Arsenal's backroom staff questioned one of Mourinho's staff on the veracity of the card and whether, indeed, it was even the Chelsea manager who had written it.

This was reported back to Mourinho who was understood to be unhappy that his festive spirit had been received with such scepticism and the Chelsea manager then decided to make his peace directly with Wenger before the match.

Mourinho makes a point of welcoming all opposition managers to Stamford Bridge before the match - whether it is during the warm-up or as the teams line up for the kick-off. At Highbury on Sunday he is understood to have made a point of waiting by his dug-out in anticipation of Wenger's arrival - the Arsenal manager stays inside when his players warm up - but was blanked by the Frenchman when he finally came out on pitchside.

This latest series of exchanges is only believed to have strengthened Mourinho's belief that even the most cursory relationship with his opposite number is impossible. Asked on Friday whether he would shake hands with Mourinho, Wenger said that he would but did not feel that it was an important element of the day. On Sunday in the dug-out, and with victory secure, Mourinho made a point of shaking hands with his assistants Steve Clarke, Baltemar Brito and Rui Faria.

The Football Association said yesterday that they would assess comments made by Wenger about the referee Rob Styles in the aftermath of his side's defeat to Chelsea with a view to charging the Arsenal manager. He was very critical of the official's decision to disallow a first-half goal by Robin van Persie, al though TV replays showed that the Dutch striker was onside when he received the ball.

Wenger said: "We scored a regular goal but the referee made a very bad decision. I associate the referee and linesmen in the same team - the Chelsea team."

However, the Arsenal manager may well argue that he made the remarks tongue in cheek.

The Arsenal captain, Thierry Henry, said that the game had been decided by marginal decisions going in Chelsea's favour, but that only Bolton Wanderers had outplayed his Arsenal team this season.

"Without taking anything away from Chelsea, the decisions went their way and it could have been another game," Henry said. "I think everyone was watching the game, hoping that we would make them fall.

"We definitely need everyone back to our best and to play like we can play. We played some good stuff in the first half and it was an open game but they scored at a crucial point. I don't think we were outplayed. The only time we were actually outplayed was at Bolton. That's the way it is. Things aren't going our way."

Ashley Cole, the Arsenal left-back who has been out with a foot injury since early October, pointed to the 1-0 defeat at Newcastle 10 days ago and said "teams are kicking us more".

"Sometimes we need to be more aggressive as a team as well and fight for each other more. To me, if I see my team mate getting slide-tackled or people going a bit too rough on them, then I'm going to get rough on them. I'm not going to let my team get hurt," Cole said.