Arsene Wenger Defends Jose Mourinho After Manchester United's Poor Start

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2018

Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (R) walks off with Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger after the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on April 29, 2018. - Manchester United won the game 2-1. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. /         (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Jose Mourinho has received support from an unlikely source in former Arsenal manager and longtime rival Arsene Wenger

The Frenchman spoke to beIN Sports (h/t Liam Prenderville of the Daily Mirror) and offered a defence of Mourinho, who has taken flak for Manchester United's poor start to the season:

"It looks to me that against Everton and Bournemouth he turned his team on the right side in terms of the performance. His team was down and responded twice in a very positive way. Overall you can trust his quality and experience to get Manchester back on track."

While United have taken 10 points from their last four games in the Premier League, the Red Devils are still only seventh in the table. They've also dropped four points in the UEFA Champions League and were eliminated by Championship side Derby County in the Carabao Cup.

Mourinho has been working hard to right United's season after a rocky start.
Mourinho has been working hard to right United's season after a rocky start.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Wenger also added his belief Mourinho remains as motivated as ever to succeed at Old Trafford: "I don't see him working every day, so I don't know if he has changed or not. We had very heated confrontations, so for me I don't think his motivation has dropped."

The "heated confrontations" Wenger referred to became the stuff of legend as a fierce rivalry developed between the Arsenal boss and Mourinho, particularly during the latter's two spells at Chelsea.

Mourinho referred to Wenger as a "voyeur" back in 2006 amid criticism from the Gunners chief about Chelsea's pragmatic tactics. More infamously, Mourinho dubbed Wenger a "specialist in failure" in 2014.

Ironically, the cutting remark was uttered the same season Wenger ended a nine-year wait for another trophy as Arsenal beat Hull City 3-2 to win the FA Cup.

Mourinho ended the campaign without a trophy to begin his second tenure in west London. However, Chelsea won the Premier League title and League Cup the next season, while Wenger's Gunners retained the FA Cup.

The head-to-head rivalry between the pair was usually dominated by Mourinho, particularly in England's top flight:

SPORF @Sporf

Arsene Wenger vs Jose Mourinho in the Premier League: 📅 Games: 13 ✅ Wins: 1 🚫 Drawn: 7 ❌ Lost: 5 The unbeaten streak is finally over! 🎉 https://t.co/kYPHYlJMZI

Wenger's only other win over Mourinho was a 1-0 triumph in the 2017 FA Community Shield. However, a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium 10 years earlier cost Mourinho's men the title, confirming United as champions.

The animosity between Wenger and Mourinho was always about more than wins, losses and trophy counts, though. Instead, it was rooted in contrasts of ideology.

Mourinho has often been portrayed as football's ultimate ruthless winner, one who favours pragmatism over style. Meanwhile, Wenger has maintained a reputation as a manager who has often valued style over grit, sometimes to Arsenal's detriment.

Wenger's words of support should be welcomed by Mourinho, who admitted he could be friends with his entrenched enemy once the former stepped down as Arsenal chief back in April.

Mourinho has responded well to the setbacks he's faced at United. His recent changes have been proactive ones, particularly the decision to take striker Romelu Lukaku out of the starting XI.

Things turned physical between Wenger and Mourinho in 2014.
Things turned physical between Wenger and Mourinho in 2014.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Mourinho's struggle to win a league title with United, coupled with the acrimonious way his last Chelsea stint ended, may have given him fresh perspective on how tough managers have it.

Wenger learned the same lesson the hard way when Arsenal's move to the Emirates Stadium from Highbury in 2006 saw the Gunners go from England's dominant force to struggling to keep up with Chelsea and United.

Wenger never quite rediscovered the winning touch he had during his first 10 seasons in charge. Yet he hasn't lost his appreciation of the challenges managers can face and the need for perspective on their performances.

The Frenchman is ready to return to management, though, even if he told beIN Sports (h/t Allan Valente of Sky Sports) rumours linking him with AC Milan are "fake news."