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Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho's Rivalry Defined by Opposite Approaches

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Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho's Rivalry Defined by Opposite Approaches
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One day the football historians will likely look back at Arsene Wenger's Arsenal reign, dividing it into two eras: the period with the trophies, and the period without. 

But while 2005 may be the dividing line here, it is perhaps the events of the summer of 2004 which marked the change.

Wenger's Arsenal team had won the Premier League without losing a game. The term "Invincibles" had been capitalised, the feat first written into the record books, and then consigned to it.

It was Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, the familiar, bitter rivals, who stopped the streak of unbeaten games at 49 that October, but it was Chelsea who took away the title. And that was the first coming of Jose Mourinho.

Ben Radford/Getty Images

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It is February 2014, and almost a decade later.

Mourinho is back at the Bridge like Indiana Jones, with a selection of exotic trophies from his travels around the world under his belt. 

Wenger is where he always is: surveilling his Gunners from the touchline, trying but failing to come to terms with the finer workings of his coat, and watching barren campaigns come and go.

A point separates the two sides at the top of the table. Twelve matches remain. 

Mourinho cannot help himself. Having spent the season depicting his £345m squad (Transfrmarket's estimate) as the "little horse" in the title hunt, you can't help but wonder how much Mourinho thinks his own performance is worth.

Wenger was asked last week in his weekly press conference why managers like Mourinho have been so keen to talk their side out of the title race. His response was less an answer than a red rag: "It is fear to fail."

Mourinho hurtled towards that red rag hours later in his own press conference:

If he is right and I am afraid of failure it is because I didn't fail many times. Eight years without silverware, that's failure. He's a specialist in failure. If I do that in Chelsea, eight years, I leave and don't come back.

Let's leave alone the question of whether he was right or wrong for a moment—this was the moment that Mourinho articulated the philosophical difference between the two. 

He manages in a way that's defined by not working like Wenger. And the second part of Wenger's Arsenal career has been defined by its contrast to the Mourinho way.

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The hostilities were broken off at the weekend, briefly, for some football to be played.

On Saturday, having won at the Etihad in the league less than two weeks ago, Mourinho's Chelsea were outmuscled at Manchester City and bowed out of the FA Cup.

A day later, Arsenal recovered from a crushing 5-1 defeat at Liverpool's hands a week ago to edge the Cup contest 2-1 and reach the competition's quarter-finals.

Wenger passed judgment on his adversary's comments in the wake of the game. He told journalists: "I don't want to go into those silly, disrespectful remarks. The only thing I know is that it's more embarrassing for Chelsea than for me."

Wenger, if indirectly, had won a small battle against Mourinho.

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The French manager has not won many battles against the Portuguese. In fact, on the pitch, Wenger has never overcome Mourinho.

Wenger vs. Mourinho: Head-to-Head
Wenger Wins Draws Mourinho Wins
0 5 5

WhoScored

It must rankle. There are few prizes that have eluded Wenger, few managers that he has not found a way to outwit. Ten matches over a decade must lift Mourinho into an uncomfortable place somewhere in Wenger's mind.

And Mourinho's barb on failure must further irritate Wenger, because whether it is disrespectful, silly or otherwise, it is rooted in truth.

Wenger's last silverware was the 2005 FA Cup. In the same interval, Mourinho has two Premier League trophies, one FA Cup, two League Cups—and that's just with Chelsea. He also has two Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League with Inter Milan, and a Liga trophy and the Copa del Rey with Real Madrid.

Arsenal, boosted by their success, left Highbury for the Emirates in 2006. Wenger built a stadium, but Mourinho built a trophy cabinet.

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The fault lines between Wenger and Mourinho don't stop there, of course.

When Wenger wants a left-back, he finds the best prospect in his youth system, moulds him, trusts him with game time and steeps him in the Arsenal way—until he develops into a champion.

When Mourinho wants a left back, he buys Ashley Cole.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

That's a generalisation, of course—there are transfers that bend those rules, be it Mesut Ozil's arrival at Arsenal, or Mohamed Salah's move to Chelsea—but it is broadly a fair assessment of their distinct ideologies. Mourinho spends, Wenger improves.

Since steering unfancied Porto to the Champions League title, Mourinho has been able to go to Europe's more moneyed clubs, purchase the players he needs, and deliver instantly. Nobody can quite decide whether Wenger's frugality is born of necessity, but the contrast between the pair here could hardly be starker.

Wenger wasn't always like this—or at least, he was not always so extreme.

Marc Overmars cost £7 million in 1997, for instance. Thierry Henry set Wenger back over £10.5 million at a time he was far from the player he went on to become (figures via Soccerbase).

The spending was shrewd, rather than apparently reluctant. The big-money sales were triumphs on Arsenal's terms, instead of admissions the best players no longer wanted to stay.

In 2005 Mourinho infamously dubbed Wenger a "voyeur," obsessed with his Chelsea:

I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, they have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks and speaks and speaks about Chelsea.

Assuming Wenger was looking across to Stamford Bridge, one thing is for certain: he didn't like what he saw.

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Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Has Wenger become more determined in his approach to running a club as a direct response to Mourinho? Maybe not directly, but his book-balancing, dynasty-building ideology is deliberately set against the way clubs like Chelsea and the super-rich clones that have subsequently sprung up across Europe work.

In one sense, you want it to work. Would the Premier League as a whole not benefit from proof engraved in silverware that patience can be justified, that budgets need not be blown, and that teams can be built rather than bought?

The only trouble is that it has yet to work. As a result, Wenger becomes a caricature with every passing season, who can claim with a straight face that fourth place is a trophy.

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Don't go thinking, however, that Mourinho does not find himself in that same, cartoonified position.

Yes, Jose has the trophies, but at a price. He left Chelsea and Real Madrid under clouds. He's never held a job for more than three years. There is no dynasty, and there may well never be.

Mourinho's ties to Chelsea are strong, but it's easy to forget that he has actually only been at the Bridge for around four years across two stints. There has been on average a new manager at Chelsea once a season, and even Mourinho is not immune to a generous pay-off and a swift exit at the hands of Roman Abramovich. It could all end in tears again.

Last summer, according to reports such as this one carried in the Guardian, Mourinho was devastated to be overlooked for the Manchester United job. He even apparently shed tears when the news came through that David Moyes had been hand-picked by Ferguson.

For a number of reasons that decision now invites debate, but at the time the concern was obvious: after 27 years under one manager, United were seduced by the idea of continuity and stability. The methods that brought Mourinho almost unparallelled success—and the circus that comes with him—cost him the chance of a job he reportedly coveted.

Perhaps, just this once, he'd have wished to be a bit more like Wenger.

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Chelsea host Arsenal on March 22 in the Premier League, after which both teams will have seven games left. 

Despite the weekend's skirmishes, the bookmakers think Chelsea and Manchester City will be the two teams left contesting the title. Oddschecker, at the time of writing, even report shorter odds for Liverpool than Arsenal to win the crown.

Perhaps the Gunners will make it 11th-time lucky against Mourinho. Perhaps that nine-season barren stretch will come to an end.

But if the bookmakers have their odds right, a far more likely outcome is that Mourinho and his mind-game-spewing mouth win the league, and Wenger goes without again.

You enter into a union with Mourinho and you accept it as a roller-coaster fling. There'll be thrills and shiny gifts, but before you know it you'll be arguing and he'll move on.

Wenger, by contrast, offers a sexless marriage. You might steal a glance over the fence every once in a while, but it's familiar, dependable and you get to see the grandchildren grow up. Besides, there are some pictures in the photo album to remind you of the better times.

All Shakespearian tragedies require a tragic hero, a protagonist with a fatal flaw that means he is destined to be unfulfilled. You could argue that it applies to both Wenger and Mourinho. There are enough rewards to their methods for them to persist with them, and for those around them to indulge them further. There's no scarcely an inclination from the Arsenal board to challenge Wenger's decisions, let alone countenance his sacking. For Mourinho, the well of suitors will surely never run dry.

If they could pool their talents, they'd be the greatest managers of their generation. But they cannot, for one thing they both share is obstinacy.

They will continue to trade their barbs, and define their approach by not doing what the other would do.

The disrespectful one and the voyeur.

The Special One and the specialist in failure.

And whatever names they call each other next. 

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