Mourinho’s greatest achievement might be what costs him this season

Arsene Wenger burst onto the scene in English football and changed the game. His stylish way of playing football charmed everyone.

But it wasn’t so much about the style, more about his principles and his approach.


Wenger is a bit of a self-made man. He wasn’t a big name in French football, although he did win a Ligue 1 title with Strasbourg. It was in management where he made his name, and his intelligent thoughts on the game and his degree in economics made him viewed as a philosopher of the game.

He’s a real footballing romantic who charmed football with an attacking approach. His teams play with a cautious flair.

And then along came Jose Mourinho, himself a self-made man. He came to England as European Champion, but he had to start right from the bottom rung, even lower than Wenger.

Yet if they have that in common, it doesn’t mean their footballing ideals are shared. Mourinho came to the Premier League and ruined the good thing Wenger had going.

We’ve known for years about the aggro between the two managers, but the bad blood will be intensified through the lens of the media and also through the pressures of a title race.

The mind games will start early (indeed, they may have started already) and the media will do everything they can to create more bad blood.

The two have been at each others’ throats for years, but somehow it feels different now. What used to be a war fought exclusively on ideological grounds now seems like a war being fought because they are title rivals.

The Red vs Blue battle is no longer just a fight between romanticism and pragmatism, and that’s because Arsene Wenger seems to have changed tack over the past few months.

The Community Shield was Wenger’s first win over Mourinho in 14 attempts, stretching back over the 11 years since the Chelsea manager first came to England.

After that game, Mourinho blasted Wenger for abandoning his principles and defending the lead for most of the game, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored midway through the first half.

Jose Mourinho is the king of such a pragmatic approach. Not only do Chelsea routinely grab a lead and defend it, but last season’s title win was built on such principles: Chelsea got a lead over Manchester City in February-time, then played conservatively for the rest of the season, doing nothing stupid and winning the league easily. Mourinho is not a man given to taking unnecessary risks and he knows what to do to win trophies.

But if Mourinho is the king of the pragmatists, then what does Wenger’s change in approach make him, if not an upstart pretender to the crown of the conservatives?

Wenger must be praised, however, for his willingness to change direction. His team still has so much attacking firepower that it’s impossible to think of Arsenal as a defensive, pragmatic team. It’s just that Wenger has realised he needs to have that club in his bag if he wants to win a league title.


Mourinho has had it in his bag all of his career. Wenger did not win a trophy for nine years between 2004 and 2013. In that period, the Mourinho won 11 major honours, including a European Cup and league titles in three different countries, always playing the same way. Clearly you get a good shot with that club.

Mourinho’s arrival on the London scene in 2004 may coincide with Wenger’s trophy drought. It is not, however, a coincidence. Mourinho changed the face of Premier League football with his style of play.

The fact we talk so often about the ‘Makelele role’ isn’t simply praise of Claude Makelele himself for carving out a position that seemed so necessary to the game, it’s praise of Mourinho for playing him there.

Mourinho moved the footballing landscape with tactics like that and, for one reason or another, Wenger hasn’t moved with it.

When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was asked what was her greatest achievement in politics, her reply was as catty as it is notorious: “Tony Blair and New Labour,” she said.

Her brand of unfeeling, Right-wing corporatism changed the face of British society and kept the Tories in power for 18 years. And the only way the Labour Party could beat the Conservatives was to move to the Right and become more Centrist than Socialist.

It’s more than simply a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, it’s a case of one side being so strong that the whole landscape changes and the debate gets pulled to one side. The other side has to adapt simply in order to survive.

But, by becoming more pragmatic in his approach, Arsene Wenger is, at last, building his team to compete in this new setting. That’s why Mourinho is becoming so agitated.

No longer is it just Manchester City’s stellar squad hot on Chelsea’s heels, but there’s an Arsenal side with a newly-found backbone on his trail too.

What Mourinho has achieved is what Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump are trying to achieve. Even if Trump doesn’t get the nomination to be the Republican Party’s candidate for the Presidential election, he’ll have succeeded in pulling the whole debate within the party to the Right, and the candidate who wins will have to show a more extreme side because of it.

Similarly if Corbyn doesn’t win his election, whoever does will have to show a more Left-wing side. Just like Mourinho, these guys have moved the setting to a different place.


The political example only goes so far, though. Thatcher may have been happy to see Labour veer more towards the Right, but that’s because her legacy depends on the shape of the country.

Corbyn and Trump might be happy to see their parties speak more to issues they care about. But if Chelsea don’t win titles, Mourinho can’t take comfort in the fact that he changed how football is played in Europe. I doubt Mourinho would be allowed nine trophyless years at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich.

So if Mourinho is criticising Wenger for playing defensively and ‘leaving their philosophy in the dressing room’ it’s because he knows that Arsenal will be more of a threat if they show a steely streak.

Mourinho is attempting to guilt Wenger into playing the way he is used to playing, i.e. trying to win beautifully. Mourinho is hoping for a return to the days when Wenger’s teams simply fail beautifully.

Mourinho and Wenger are part of distinct schools of thought, but the success of Mourinho has changed the debate for good. Wenger is the only man to preside over an unbeaten season in the Premier League.

But that was pre-Mourinho. Post-Mourinho, it’s a different story. The goalposts have been moved, and Wenger has only just started to adapt to the new scenario. The only question that remains is, how didn’t he see this 11 years ago?

The Premier League has changed completely and utterly since the day that Jose Mourinho took over at Stamford Bridge, and Arsene Wenger was left behind.

But after 11 years in the wilderness, (mitigated, perhaps, by a precarious financial state due to the building of a new stadium) Wenger has discovered a formula that might actually win him another title.

Arsenal have added a steely streak. If this were politics, we’d be saying that Wenger has moved away from his firebrand Socialist ideals and embraced a more pragmatic, Capitalist outlook.

That’s Mourinho’s greatest achievement in football. He changed English football to the point where even the great idealist Wenger has had to change his mind.

However, it’s this change that might see Arsenal win their first title since Mourinho came to London in 2004. Sometimes success has its price.

The Author

Chris McMullan

A follower of football all around Europe, Chris has a special interest in France and is a fan of Ligue 1's most successful team, St Etienne.

15 thoughts on “Mourinho’s greatest achievement might be what costs him this season

  1. The two, Mourinho and Wenger are totally different, Wenger is more of business minded, not only a coach, and all these years that Wenger failed to win a trophy, we cannot say he failed, No! “Not at all” he had a mission, vision and he achieved his mission without any problem, his mission and vision was to make sure Arsenal will continue to play in the Champions League until they finish building Emirates Stadium, which they did. There was some years when Arsenal was like a selling club, but people do not realize that Wenger had a vision for what he wanted to achieve. Did he achieve it? yes, he did while still playing Champions League every year, until they finished their STADIUM, and they are beginning to show they can buy expensive players, that means they achieved their mission and they can generate more revenue from Emirates Stadium. So you can see the difference between the two, other managers were busy pumping money from the club to buy players for the success of the team to win trophies. If I may ask, how much did Wenger waste this transfer widow? How much did Man United waste this transfer widow? How much did Liverpool and Chelsea waste this transfer widow? You do not need a witness to know that, you can see the difference between these Premier League managers. Wenger is busy loaning the young boys he is grooming to other clubs, and there is a benefit to the club as well. You can see and understand how Wenger manages Arsenal, unlike other managers, their duty is to ask for more instead of grooming young players to become stars of tomorrow.

  2. All very well analysed but there’s one thing you just don’t understand. Not everyone is willing to go the same way no matter how many riches there are to win or how many others do. That is Wengers dilemma. He may have understood 11 years ago that Mou’s tactics were more efficient but so what if you love football, it’s not just about results. Kudos to Wenger for having survived all that time.

    It’s like with capitalism gone overboard, if in the end it becomes the norm to cheat, fraud, exploit, rip off to survive does that mean EVERYONE must adapt to that new norm or can we not just admire those who are willing to fight in the face of adversity and stick to principles?

    I for one am not going to judge this “change” on one match. Lets see a few more before discussing whether Wenger is really adapting to the principles of Mou (who may have been at the top of Europe shortly but has since fallen pretty far in Europe so I’d not quite say he’s changed European football, he’s yet to prove his tactics work on that level and I don’t think they do against sides far superior to his, heck they don’t even work against 2nd rate (European) PSG).

  3. Mourinho is a cancer. You can’t change English football when your constantly moving from club to club. Look at how he deflected blame from himself after the first game and made his medical staff the scapegoat of the week. The next week after Man City annihilated them he had the nerve to tell the media it was a “fake scoreline”. Furthermore it is quite simple to change the game when you have an endless supply of Russian mob money with no thought or regard to the economic side of things. He has never built anything from the ground up…he is a fraud, plain and simple.

  4. Barcelona has Messi,Suarez,Neymar(MSN)Chelsea has Pedro,Harzard,Diego(PHD).Barcelona has a Masters in Spanish football and Chelsea has a PHD in English football

  5. I am for ball playing and for more entertaining attacking football, the negative tactics would soon bring a major drag on English football. Possibly it is in defense of more entertaining football that Wenger continued these 11 years practically alone. He had to change now because he cannot continue alone against the herd for the obvious reasons.
    Patric Uche, ABJ.

  6. His style has worked before against strong Barcelona and Bayern side when he won the Champions league with Inter Milan. Arsenal score him with that style and likewise Man City. And I believe most of the teams have now come to the realization that to beat Mou, you have to adapt his style. But as you rightly said, it might be too early to judge since it cannot be based on just one match.

  7. You spoke too soon – Arsenal’s squad is not equipped to play cynical, crap football. Mourinho is a massive douchebag; a winner, no doubt, but a destroyer of teams and a destroyer of any semblance of the beautiful game but had you watched the Crystal Palace game last week, you saw Arsenal play breathless football, not an abandonment of their principles, while Chelsea did what teams under Mourinho always do after they win something – look old, and bereft of youth and ideas.

  8. Coaches are not employed to build stadiums, they come in to win trophies. Wenger am sure was a building contracter…he just got schooled by Mou so he suddenly turned into a coach. smh. Chelsea/Mou till casket

  9. Since 2004…
    One factor to consider is that Arsene has to “help” with the funding of building of the Emirates Stadium (selling some of their best players)
    This also coincide with billionaires pouring money into Chelsea & Man-Citeh. Man-U has always been a rich club (richest in EPL).
    So well done Arsene!
    Let’s hope this season is a start to claim the EPL title

  10. Mr.Edison Sonjeh Taurah says: the Value of Spanish MSN is greater than English PHD in Europe!
    because Barcelona are Champions of Europe!

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