By Tai Emeka Obasi.
Wenger, Mourinho Drama – Good Usually Triumphs.
As a man who earns his living authoring books of fiction and scripting movies, I may say I’m quite schooled in the protagonist and antagonist world of make-believe. Writers love to play God and if you happen to live within this most-times-alluring fantasy world you can only succeed if you play Him to a convincing degree.
There’s certainly no better market to buy your utopian powers from than the holy books. God gave the ultimate antagonist, the Devil, unbelievable powers! Yet the master plotter Himself expects man to subdue this ever-lurking-around bad guy. And that’s tough. Very tough! But God is God. He chooses whom to bless and turns His back on those He wishes to turn His back on. Which especially includes those who press the self-destruct button.
So when a certain Jose Mourinho arrived in England aged 41, he carried with him the overwhelming airs of a very successful football tactician. Having just won the UEFA Champions League with a modest outfit like Porto Fc in his home country, he was set for the future.
One could feel the strength of character, observe the seeming charisma, the newest actor in the global football circles… but behind all those was an overshadowing arrogance. It could be seen quite clearly from television screens all over the globe. The mischievous grin, the darting eyes, the evident carriage of I-know-it-all couriered nothing else but egotism – the very worst of it. As if one was in doubt, the self-acclaim, ‘The Special One’ summed up an individual, who believed the football world was his.
But is this going to be all about Mourinho and his antics? Definitely not. In well-scripted movies, the antagonist hardly overshadows the protagonist.
So, let’s introduce Arsene Wenger. Here is a man who sleeps, wakes, eats, drinks football. He loves the game so passionately that every effort he makes towards the game is the certainty that the beautiful game remains ever beautiful long after he’s gone. His philosophy is that football must not only remain a grade A entertainment sport that should be played without malice, dubiousness and crass disregard to its rules, but that it must also be a top-grade business to be engaged in.
Wenger’s strong-held views of the game he loves so much include but not limited to the following:
- A football club MUST be a profit-oriented entity. Whoever is interested in investing in the game must reap returns like other businesses the world over.
- A football club MUST, at all costs, avoid living above resources it could generate.
- Players MUST be respected and given enough chance to recover from loss of form and injuries instead of expressly signing others to replace those affected with such minor blips, thereby denting morale and psychology that could lead to premature end of career.
- Upcoming players MUST be nurtured, given their chances early enough in order not to lose such talents to frustration and career crisis.
The list could continue…
Le Prof came to England, a good eight years earlier than his opposite, Mourinho. Within those eight years, he won everything worthy in England there could be won, including two doubles and an unprecedented unbeaten season that stretched to 49 league games. Still a record that will take some beating!
But the Frenchman knew just trophies were not enough to sustain any club from bankruptcy… a big stadium, attracting big sponsorship and endorsements were needed. Hence, the little Highbury arena that squeezed in just 38,419 fans at its seams was no longer befitting for a club the status of the modern Arsenal he wanted to leave behind deserved. So, the Emirates was planned… and what an edifice to behold!
With over 60,000 capacity, the Emirates remains a statement no amount of trophies could ever equal in this modern era. The rest, they say, is history.
But that history would not be complete if one skipped the fact that despite selling players after players while this transition was being manoeuvred, Wenger and Arsenal never went missing on the Europe’s biggest stage – the Champions League. It doesn’t just end there…all that while, however tough the group, whatever the inconsistencies and upsets, Arsenal always qualified for the knock-out stage or second round of matches. At the thick of it, they even got to the final in 2006!
It may be noteworthy to add that since Wenger’s coming, no team in the English soil has managed to stay in the top 4 with same consistency, despite none going through such huge financially-indulging transition. Neither have the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas, Manchester Citys ever maintained same consistency of grasping knockout stages from respective groups. The Liverpools, Tottenhams, Evertons, despite huge investments in player acquisitions, couldn’t displace Arsenal from their permanent Top 4 status.
Time to bring back our antagonist. One billionaire in name of Roman Abravomich. The Russian oil tycoon was looking for a part-time hobby to take care of his amusement. He chose football, bought Chelsea and introduced the ‘Special One’ to the big stage. For the continued beauty of the game, Roman should have saved the game the trouble of the loquacious Portuguese or better still found another means of amusement. But the innocent-looking Russian didn’t. And as a result, the English game lost its tranquillity. It didn’t end there – Roman’s billions turned Mourinho from a game tactician to a vociferous braggart, insulting just anybody in world football that picked his fancy.
And take this home, Wenger and Arsenal were fancy spots Mourinho hourly picked on even after Roman had had enough and booted the ex-Porto coach out of England in that hilarious coinage – mutual consent. All the while the British press, who besides Roman’s billions contributed immensely in turning Mourinho into the monster he revelled as the foul-mouthed Portuguese insulted Wenger and Arsenal.
But Mourinho was not just a plain troublemaker. No. He was smart, still smart. While words like ‘decorum’ and ‘respect’ wouldn’t be found on any page of his dictionary, ‘smart’ would start every page. He was spending millions all over Europe, winning his trophies, putting the game into more disrepute than his trophies were worth. Yes. But the smart side of him told him Wenger’s eventual success on the trophy front would render him (Mourinho) irrelevant.
If Mourinho was a modest (another word not anywhere in his dictionary) man, he would have taken his sojourn in Spain to understand clearly he wasn’t the best in the world. Faced with a manager who matched him strength-to-strength in player quality, the ‘Special One’ met more than someone truly special. Pep Guardiola consistently humbled him that he (Mourinho), a very terrible loser, characteristically turned the beautiful and friendly sport of football into bullish fights – from ill-fated tackles to eye poking – which nearly destroyed the harmony in the Spanish national side. He left Spain dented, but not completely broken.
There was still some pride left and his obsession to reduce Wenger to nothingness forced him to openly beg for the Chelsea job. And when he came to England for the second time, he made it clear he was in for the long haul, making statements that would suggest very long haul indeed.
He took off like he never did before…and some early signs of modesty seemed the Portuguese must have added some maturity after his tough spell in Madrid. But it was all a smokescreen. Arsenal was his obsession and Wenger clearly his target.
Mourinho still believed players should be signed at all costs for trophies. Wenger still asked how much the trophies were worth to spend billions winning them. Unfortunately for the second-missionary Portuguese, the term, ‘specialist in failure’ didn’t stick like all other tantrums he had thrown at the French gentleman had done in the past. And from that moment, Mourinho’s demise took off. He had pressed the self-destruct button this once too often. He won the League title the following year…yes but only to prepare him for the ultimate disgrace. Winning the title at a canter meant his players were the best. Yet, with same set of players and few quality additions, Mourinho played 16 league matches, winning just four, drawing three and losing…wait for it…NINE!
Mourinho is a man who even while achieving much is still envious of his neighbour for achieving little. He hates Wenger for taking Arsenal to its present level. He envies a club that doesn’t depend on one sugar daddy for decisions and prompt actions. He envies an entity that has enshrined consistency in its eternal resume. He is still a great tactician but envy has consumed him.
The hallmark of good movies is that the good guy usually laughs last and best. At this climax of Mourinho’s demise will Wenger get his pound of flesh and win the title as a bold statement that Arsenal has finished planting and onto harvest times?
God, as the ultimate scriptwriter and movie director, would definitely give this modern-day drama a happy ending. Football is a sport to be played on friendly atmosphere where winners and losers hug and go home. Not a game in which winners curse opponents and play God. Football should be played the Wenger way…entertaining, fair in challenges and tackles, sumptuous goals and winning with all rules and fairness in the game. To protect the future of the game, Wenger should smile last. And that, would be God’s final curtain on this very cantankerous stage involving Mourinho.
I can’t wait for May.