Arsene Wenger received the Laureus Lifetime Achievement award on Monday but it was the glowing tribute from the unlikeliest of sources Jose Mourinho that caught the eye.
The 69-year-old Wenger won the award on the back of his revolutionising English football especially in the first part of his over two decades in charge of Arsenal.
The veteran former Gunners boss and Mourinho clashed often on and off the touchline. However, Mourinho – sacked by Manchester United in December, paid handsome tribute to Wenger via a video.
The volatile Portuguese, who had two spells at Chelsea and then the turbulent one at United, acknowledged there had been moments when they had been at odds with each other.
It boiled over when Wenger pushed Mourinho on the touchline during the latter’s second period in charge of Chelsea and Mourinho made some barbed remarks about the studious Frenchman, commenting he was a “voyeur” and a “specialist in failure”.
“There were some episodes along the road,” said Mourinho. “I can only speak by myself. I really enjoyed the competition. But the real respect is always there. He [Wenger] made lots of history in that football club. One of the best football managers in the history of football.”
Wenger, who was virtually unknown but proved an inspirational choice by then Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein when he was hired in 1996, accrued among other trophies three Premier League titles and lifted the FA Cup seven times.
However, perhaps his greatest achievement was the title winning side of the 2003-’04 campaign who went through the league season unbeaten.
“The nickname is there – the Invincibles,” said Mourinho. “Amazing. A coaching philosophy, the almost perfect team.”
‘We want our Mars bars’
Wenger, who has been linked with several jobs since leaving Arsenal at the end of last season including the director of football post at Paris Saint-Germain, admitted he had been taken aback when he watched the video at the awards ceremony.
“That is a very good question,” he replied as to what was the biggest surprise the award or Mourinho praising him. “It was a surprise yes. We had some good fights at times.”
Wenger said what was even more unexpected was that the man on the touchline won an award. “An even bigger surprise is usually the lifetime achievement award goes to a Pele, a Maradona or a Beckenbauer. Tonight it is a player from a little village but it is good that coaches are rewarded in our game.”
One of Wenger’s recipes of success involved tearing up the book on the players diet when he arrived at Arsenal and introduced healthy eating habits. He concedes that was not universally accepted.
“I forbid them eating Mars bars,” said the man who still has the “virus” of football in his blood and wakes up every morning wondering what match is on that night.
“So at first I was greeted on the team coach with chants of “we want our Mars bars”. They did not get them. Today it shows how much football has changed you would never hear footballers demanding Mars bars.”
Laureus is a global movement that aims to use the power of sport to tackle social challenges in the world.
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