Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's time for Arsene Wenger to show who really is the Special One

By Piers Morgan

Would you take Mourinho over Wenger as manager of Arsenal?, asked a friend this week. It was a good question. Ten years ago, I wouldn't have hesitated. There was no manager on the planet I'd have wanted more than Wenger then. 

This French genius had driven the team to new heights of dazzling success and done it in a style so wondrously entertaining that even Spurs fans like my dad were left drooling over us.

But now, I wasn't quite so certain of my answer. Wenger has had a lean trophyless five years. Mourinho has had an astonishing run of silverware triumphs. I'd still rather watch a Wenger team play than a Mourinho team. But in the end, I believe sport is for winning. 

Oh, I'll cheer on Eddie the Eagle as he charges down one of his calamitous hill runs, roar with delight when Frank Bruno beats up some useless lump or get the bunting out when an English girl gets past the second round at Wimbledon. 

It's what we Brits do: back the underdog, stick mediocrity on a plinth, salute our own ineptitude. 

This is a completely alien concept in America, where I am currently residing. Here, sport is quite straightforward. You either win or lose. There are hardly any draws in their major sports like baseball, basketball, ice hockey or gridiron. 

And if you're not a winner, nobody wants to know you, let alone cheer you. That's why the Mourinho- Wenger debate would last about five seconds in an American bar. 

'So one of these guys has won nothing since 2005 and the other guy has won eight trophies? And we're even bothering to discuss this?' 
Well, yes, we are actually. And the reason is because Mourinho popped up this week to verbally desecrate all and sundry in his usual cocky, infuriating, yet indisputably amusing and fascinating way. 

Much of what he said, I agreed with. Rafa Benitez did take Liverpool backwards in his last few years there, Manchester City's limitless budget means they are serious title threats now and Fabio Capello is hopeless as England coach - regardless of whether Mourinho actually did or didn't say that last bit. 

But when he turned his turrets on Wenger and Arsenal, I found myself bristling with more than just partisan irritation. 

I've been a fairly vocal critic of Wenger myself in the last five years and also grown tired of the annual 'we are kids in progress' excuse. 

But there was something insultingly dismissive about the way Mourinho spoke about Wenger, revealing a complete lack of respect for the man. And it got me thinking about the two of them in more detail. 

Mourinho is indisputably a ruthlessly brilliant manager. Of that, there is no doubt. But he's also a shameless mercenary who trades clubs like my sons trade iTunes vouchers, doesn't invest in young players because he's never going to be around long enough to justify the wait and spends money like a Lottery winner on acid because he only works for billionaires and every decision he takes is for short-term gain and sod the consequences to the long-term welfare of the club in which he is temporarily housed. 

Wenger, by contrast, is an extraordinarily loyal man who has revolutionised British football, changing the way Premier League players train, eat, drink, exercise and discipline themselves. 

As a result, they're all fitter, faster, leaner and better. He has also been a magnificent ambassador for the club - he revels in its history and talks as affectionately about Arsenal players from the Thirties as ones from the Nineties. 

It has taken longer than he thought to replace the dismantled Invincibles team of 2003-04 but, despite all the criticism, he has kept going. And I believe he's finally getting the squad he needs to properly compete. 

Keeping Cesc Fabregas was a huge coup. The signing of mature French centre-back Sebastien Squillaci is a great move. And if he brings in a top-class goalkeeper like Mark Schwarzer or Shay Given, I'd say we've got a real chance of success. 

Nobody can tell me that a team with a strong, experienced back five and explosive talent up front like Andrey Arshavin, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott and Fabregas cannot win trophies. 

The one plea I would make to Wenger is this: love him or hate him, Mourinho plays to win every game and every competition. And that brought him success in both the FA and Carling Cup. 

Wenger never tries to win either competition any more and, as a result, our young guns have never learned to experience the joyous art of winning. 

Go for everything this season, Arsene, play your strongest teams in every game and do it with the class, style and loyalty that makes you a better man and manager than Mourinho will ever be. 

Show the world what we Gooners believe - that you are the really Special One.

Published in The Daily Mail on 29th Aug 2010