Maybe now Jose Mourinho will have respect for Arsene Wenger’s skill in avoiding failure


Following his sacking, Jose Mourinho should start to appreciate the work of great rival Arsene Wenger and his consistency in achieving top-four finishes, writes Richard Jolly.

The most disparaging of comments emerged on Valentine’s Day. But then Jose Mourinho has never seemed one of football’s great romantics and his relationship with Arsene Wenger has always been prickly. So he proved.

TheArsenal manager, he declared in February 2014, was a “specialist in failure”.Like many of Mourinho’s more outrageous statements, it looks especially ill-advised now. Winning enabled him to get away with virtually anything. Losing brought a sharper focus on his own shortcomings. Now it is easy to imagine Mourinho, as he languishes in lucrative unemployment, presumably thinking that everyone, from the officials he has often blamed, to the ball boys at the King Power Stadium and the players who had apparently “betrayed” him, was responsible for his downfall.

Yet, if paranoia does not get the better of him, he might want to revisit those sentiments.Mourinho’s travails ought to make him redefine his notion of failure. They should give him a renewed respect for Wenger. David Moyes took Manchester United to seventh. Rafa Benitez left Liverpool in the same spot. Mourinho leftChelsea in 16th; before Christmas and before his sacking, he admitted a top-four finish was beyond his grasp.

In comparison, the Frenchman’s seasons have bottomed out in fourth spot and the last 16 of the Champions League. There have been regular flirtations with fifth-place finishes and group-stage exits, but Wenger is an escapologist as well as an economist. His best, certainly in the post-2004 era, has not seen him reach the heights Mourinho has touched, but his worst is better than anyone else’s. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, who secured 22 consecutive top-three finishes, bowed out of the Champions League before the knockout stages twice in his final eight seasons.

Wenger has been a paragon of consistency, even throughout the years when his budget was limited and his best players seemed to depart on an annual basis.Wenger has never actually failed. He has just had seasons which have yielded less success than hoped. He has been a specialist in halting slides, an expert in extricating Arsenal from problematic positions, an authority in enabling players to recover from seemingly crushing blows.

Mourinho has showed few such skills in the worst run of his career.Wenger has suffered embarrassing defeats as Arsenal manager, but never lost nine of 15 league games, as Mourinho did before his departure, or risked dropping into the relegation zone in December. Rather, his darkest days seem to prompt a new dawn. After 2011’s 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford, Arsenal won seven of their next nine games: not always convincingly – though the 5-3 victory at Chelsea was certainly extraordinarily – but by displaying an often overlooked grit and togetherness as well as the quality in their ranks. Their 6-0 evisceration at Mourinho’s hands in March 2014 prompted a wobble: Arsenal nevertheless ended the campaign with five straight league wins and an FA Cup final triumph.Each revival was revealing. Arsenal’s 2011 surge owed much to Robin van Persie, who scored 12 goals in the nine league games after the Old Trafford embarrassment.

Their 2014 recovery was instigated by Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey. Sometimes Wenger has had champion players in his corner. At others, the collective has rallied around him.

Mourinho seemed to have alienated a dressing room whereas Wenger has never lost his players’ trust. His foibles are well known, his stubbornness, his reluctance to spend, the way many Arsenal defeats seem depressingly similar to others, but his managerial style is geared to the long term, whether with his endless belief in a better tomorrow or a more subtle psychological touch.There are times when it has felt that Wenger has shied away from the issues.

Mourinho has careered straight into them, crashing and burning. Shock-and-awe tactics have prompted wonder at his trophy-gathering habit. Now Mourinho looks shocked, unable to account for his sudden fallibility and unable to prevent his sacking. It ought to bring more humility and a greater understanding of the challenges others have faced. And, in Wenger’s case, conquered. Because, right now, only one seems a specialist in avoiding failure.

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