So, Sunday happened. The often spurned, depending on whether your team wins it or not, FA Community Shield was taken by Arsenal for the second year in a row following last season’s successful defence of the FA Cup – another trophy that seems to be given less value depending on who wins it.
The club football famine annually experienced in the northern hemisphere summer made this match highly anticipated, with the particular teams involved adding to the keenness. The Wenger-Mourinho duel is a highlight for many a journalist during the football season. This is probably due, in the main, to the easy headlines it produces, the primary (and, quite frankly, tired) one being the much spoken about 13 match winless record Wenger had against Mourinho. In the days leading up to Sunday, the papers, in print and web, regurgitated that same line, helped in no small part by the Portuguese man himself doing his regular duty of feeding the media juicy titbits. One can only imagine how many pre-written match reports – continuing in the vein of above mentioned winless record – were hurriedly deleted, revised or re-written as Anthony Taylor blew the final whistle.
The match itself won’t go down as a classic, but it was a good day for the Gunners and will have built morale going into a season of much expectation for this squad. The headlines afterwards were not about the football, though. Attention was given to what I believe was an intentionally crafted situation shortly after Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker lifted the shield up at the royal box.
As everyone knows now, Sunday produced handshakegate. Some on social media were hailing Mourinho’s personal congratulating of each Arsenal player as a classy gesture, but anyone who has followed the man’s career would be wise to take anything he says and does in the presence of television cameras with a pinch of scepticism. Standing there and staring glumly as Arsenal received their medals and trophy, that wily mind of his must have been ticking. The subsequent personal handshaking of his opponents was a little out of the ordinary. What manager today does this? If anything, one would have expected him to be commiserating his own players in that way instead.
The Arsenal players’ reaction to the gesture ranged from welcoming to indifference, interspersed with added embraces from Cech and Cazorla. But I don’t believe there was ever really a sincere intention to congratulate much like a player applauding the ref for a booking he doesn’t believe he deserved. Like most top managers, Mourinho is a bad loser, so this always had ‘agenda’ written all over it. Obviously not knowing exactly what goes on in the man’s mind, I do have a few theories about the whole soap opera.
Jose Mourinho has been known to make every effort to divert attention away from his players, especially after a loss or before a big match to keep the pressure off them. He often does this by ensuring the media focuses on him for their headlines, rather than, say, discussing how Eden Hazard (he of supposed equal footballing measure to multi-Ballon d’Or winning Cristiano Ronaldo) went missing all afternoon – his only real contribution was sending a golden chance into Wembley’s row Z with Cech at his mercy. Or pointing out how his striking options currently look dire in Diego Costa’s absence, with a Loic Remy that the manager doesn’t seem to fully trust (his numerous offsides in 45 minutes won’t have helped) and question marks over Radamel Falcao who hasn’t shown any of the form that shifted him into elite-striker territory.
The two-time Champions League winner is as intelligent as he is calculating. He would have known that there was to be no show of faux courtesy between him and Arsene Wenger. The FA’s tunnel cam before the match shows how the two managers stood at the front their teams’ queues, looking directly ahead and hardly acknowledging each other before they walked out onto the pitch. I admit it’s edited, so it may have skipped any greetings as they walked out of their dressing rooms. After the match, Wenger walked straight down the tunnel without performing the final whistle ritual of shaking the opponent’s hand. Why would he then come in for a handshake later, especially at a time when Mourinho seemed to be carrying out another one of his antics? Jose knew he could easily spin the story to suggest that he ‘made himself available’ and that it was Wenger’s choice not to shake his hand, which is what he said when quizzed on it.
Adding on to the madness, Mourinho threw his medal into the stands just as he exited the pitch into the tunnel. Yes, he’s done this before in that now famous throwing of his Premier League winners’ medal into the crowd in 2006, twice! This was different, however. On close observation, one can see what seems like an object that’s been thrown at- or falls towards him from the crowd shortly before he looks up and throws the medal he was holding back into the stands. So perhaps this wasn’t planned, but as always, he had a cheeky response about that, citing that the young Arsenal fan who caught it must be pleased at having a losers’ medal – it should be clear enough what that statement was meant to imply.
On the Wednesday after, the Chelsea manager came out to once again criticise Arsene Wenger for not shaking his hand – not that Mourinho had put out his own hand for the handshake to begin with. Something about it being fine in the street as there’s no obligation to shake hands, but unacceptable behaviour in a stadium when you are representing an institution like your football club. Someone may want to remind him of how he effectively brought Real Madrid into disrepute when he went for Tito Vilanova’s eye with his finger a few years back. It’s a bit rich for Mourinho to be talking about representing a club honourably. But, as we saw last season, he knows how to create a siege mentality and plays pseudo-victim really well.
Sunday’s dramatics are ironic: in the lead up to the match, Mourinho claimed that he wouldn’t “make a drama” when he eventually does lose to Wenger, something his tone seemed to imply would only happen in the distant future and not as soon as that weekend. Also, one wonders what kind of value system he holds, or whether he lives in a bubble of some sort. In the real world, when someone constantly heckles and provokes you, calls you despicable names (‘voyeur’ alone is bad enough), and overall says disrespectful things to you, that’s not a person to whom you feel inclined to extend any courtesy, especially when there’s no legal obligation to do so. So, even though in truth both managers chose to ignore each other on the day, Wenger would be well within his rights and conviction to go as far as rejecting Mourinho’s handshake even if it had been offered.
Jose Mourinho generally operates on a win-whatever-it-takes approach to competing. He thrives on creating commotion and doesn’t seem to mind crossing the line and manipulating situations in any possible way in order to unsettle his competitors. I can understand he has a hunger and desire to achieve his best (all managers do), but his modus operandi ensures that he has few friends once all is said and done – some at his previous clubs are said to dislike him regardless of the things he may have won for them. Just like the playing style and tactics his teams often employ on the pitch, he’s all about the results and doesn’t really care how he gets it done.
Given the way ‘The Special One’ likes to go about things, this probably isn’t the last we’ve seen or heard of this ‘feud’ between the two managers. But with each encounter, the elder French mentor is showing less and less willingness to get entangled in the Chelsea boss’ petty, unnecessary games – not that he was ever eager to play in the first place. One may think of Wenger’s rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson and wonder why it never quite descended to these lows. Le Prof enjoys a jovial and friendly relationship with the Manchester United legend even after his departure from football. I believe this indicates the presence of one thing that existed between Ferguson and Wenger which Jose Mourinho does not extend to the latter: RESPECT.
I first encountered Arsenal when I got exposed to English football around 2004 (that champagne football sold it for me), but only learnt of the Invincible season much later on. I used to think the club is named after Arsene – a bit silly in retrospect. Appreciate the perspective and stories of older Gooners who’ve supported the club longer than I’ve been alive. Market researcher with a keen interest in photography (David Price and Stuart McFarlane have the best job in the world).
Oh, almost bought a Man United shirt as a youngster because I saw a friend of mine, who was the cool kid, wearing one. So glad I didn’t go down that road!