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Feud was defined by undignified scramble for moral high ground

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There's a clip from the aftermath of 2015 Community Shield final that neatly captures the amusing pettiness that Arsene Wenger's relationship with Jose Mourinho acquired over the years.

Single file, Arsenal's players descend from the Wembley podium after a 1-0 victory, Wenger's first over Mourinho in 14 attempts.

There, surrounded by cameras, awaits a lone figure dressed in Chelsea midnight blue.

A handshake for Kieran Gibbs. A high five for Nacho Monreal. A pat on the back for Santi Cazorla.

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Laurent Koscielny grins as he lugs the large wooden shield under his oxter past Mourinho and then, second to last, strolls Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the recipient of a respectful ruffle of the hair.

Finally, from out of shot, arrives a besuited Wenger, heading the same direction to the same destination - the Wembley pitch.


A lean, gangly figure, Wenger body swerves behind Mourinho, who doubles-down on the snub by turning his back at the moment of realising that they would not be making friends.

The two men almost bump into each other in their haste not to bump into each other.

Petty? Childish? Hilarious?

The previous October, Wenger had squared up to, and pushed, Mourinho in Stamford Bridge, perhaps the nadir of their conflict, and an act for which the Frenchman later apologised.

But even the apology ("I always regret any signs of violence and I apologise for it") wasn't really an apology to Mourinho.

It was an apology to his better self - the distinguished, refined footballing sage, appalled that Mourinho could irritate him to the point of losing his cool in such a public way.

There had been no handshake at the final whistle after the Community Shield game.

Just two highly intelligent adults pretending to be unaware of each other's presence despite standing roughly three metres apart at that moment. Naturally, Mourinho was delighted with the snub.

Because if anything defined the Mourinho-Wenger rivalry, it was the undignified scramble for the moral high ground.

"I was doing what I think the status of my club and my status as a manager have to do, which is be there for the winners, to wait for them," explained Mourinho afterwards.

It wasn't an unreasonable point to make. But because it was made by someone who poked Tito Vilanova in the eye after a particularly acidic El Clasico four years previously, it felt a lot like virtue-signalling.

Granted, there are few enough prominent managers of the past 20 years with whom Mourinho hasn't had some kind of contretemps.

And in terms of singular incidents of skulduggery, his 2011 clash with the now-deceased Vilanova, then a coach with Barcelona, stands alone as an act of utter abhorrence. But as a feud, a long-running dispute - a rivalry - nothing can compare to his caustic relationship with Wenger.

Even his antipathy with Pep Guardiola, previously brimming with disdain, has descended to the level of once loathsome neighbours who now awkwardly nod to one another on those mornings they have the misfortune to leave their houses at the same time.

Multilingualism and harmless playing careers aside, Wenger and Mourinho seemed perfectly juxtaposed.

Wenger arrived to England as a nobody in the mid-'90s and was ridiculed by a xenophobic British tabloid press.

Mourinho came under his own twinkling 'Special One' billing, seduced the same media with his Bond-villain charisma and had his every initial move deified.

Wenger believed in the development of youth. A self-sustaining business model. The Arsenal way.

Mourinho spent big. Ready-made, big-waged players. Who needs a youth system or a wage structure when you have oligarch-level money?

He was the original "chequebook manager" and such an unimaginative method of team building offended Wenger's utopian outlook.

Wenger preached the value of expression, perhaps best exemplified during his last, difficult seasons and his attempts to lodge as many small, slow, flighty No 10s into his starting 11 as possible.

Mourinho believed in winning. Which is probably why it always jammed in his craw that Wenger retained the admiration of the British sporting public long after his teams had ceased to top league tables.

"In this country, only one manager is not under pressure," Mourinho once moaned. "Every other manager is. We cannot be below par. We have to meet the objectives. There is one outside that list, but good for him. You know who."


For his part, Wenger was regularly scornful of Mourinho's methods, albeit in a sort of high-minded, philosophical way that only entrenched the warring factions.

"I know we live in a world where we have only winners and losers," he noted, "but once a sport encourages teams who refuse to take the initiative, the sport is in danger."

Mourinho branded Wenger a "voyeur" and a "specialist in failure" but ultimately - and for all his ability to wind his rival up - he could never win a war of words with a man so eloquent in an acquired language as Wenger. Mourinho may have dominated their head-to-head meetings, but he never pulled a zinger quite like Wenger's in 2014.

"Sometimes," Wenger noted of his old pal, "when you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid and not more intelligent."

For more news relating to Arsenal, visit our sister site Arsenal Live.
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