Jose Mourinho gave his former adversary Arsene Wenger some rare praise recently, after the latter was presented with the Laureus World Sports Awards’ Lifetime Achievement award.
Speaking to @LaureusSport after the event, Mourinho described the nature of his rivalry with Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, starting with how it came to be in the first place.
“I arrived in England and I found ‘the Invincibles’ and I found Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson very much hurt by that Arsenal season,” Mourinho said.
“And we were like a third force coming. Chelsea had a great desire to be champions for the first time in so many years. So, of course, it was the confrontation of forces and you can imagine that Sir Alex, Wenger and myself we were fighting for the same. We were like, I like to say in football, ‘sweet enemies’.”
After that, Mourinho proceeded to give some unexpected praise to his former opponent, particularly when it came to the 69-year-old’s biggest achievement, the unbeaten Premier League season.
“He is a very intelligent person and one of the best managers in the history of football,” the Portuguese manager continued. “My feeling is where are the next ‘Invincibles’? Where are they? Who did it again? Who made people forget that he was the manager of the invincible team?
“Lots of philosophies, lots of talk, lots of PR. Football today is a lot about this, but [it is about] results, and who did better than him?”
The former Chelsea and Manchester United boss clashed with Wenger plenty of times when they were both still managing, and the 56-year-old clearly crossed the line on a number of occasions. However, he insists he doesn’t regret the competitive and often hostile nature of the rivalry.
“I really enjoyed the competition but there were some episodes along the road that I don’t like to say I regret because this is really part of our history and we cannot go back and delete them. But what I can say is that the real respect is always there.”
For now, the two former coaches are both out of a job, although neither have confirmed their retirement at this stage. It’s still possible we’ll see them line up against each other in the future, but it’s getting more and more unlikely the longer Wenger goes without taking a new job. We’ll see whether he takes one up in the coming months.