Jose Mourinho has described his old rival Arsene Wenger as a “sweet enemy” and insisted he regarded a man he once mocked as “one of the best football managers in the history of football”.
But Mourinho, sacked by Manchester United in December, has congratulated Wenger on receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Laureus World Sports Awards this week, and offered extensive praise for the Frenchman.
“I really enjoyed the competition but there were some episodes along the road that I don’t like to say I regret it or should Mr Wenger regret it too because this is really part of our history and we cannot go back and delete them and they were part of our history and our club’s history,” he told Laureus Sport.
“But what I can say is that the real respect is always there.”
Asked to describe Wenger, Mourinho said: “A very intelligent person and one of the best football managers in the history of football.”
Mourinho said his rivalry with Wenger began as soon as he arrived in England as Chelsea manager in 2004 as a natural consequence of their positions.
“I arrived in England and I found ‘the Invincibles’ and I found Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson very much hurt by that invincible Arsenal season,” he said.
“We were like a third force coming. Chelsea with 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, Mr Wenger and myself we were fighting for the same.
“We were like, I like to say in football, ‘sweet enemies’. In that moment it is hard. In that moment it is a real fight. But then in the end I think, at least I do that, I always thank my ‘sweet rivals’ to make me, to making me better.”
Wenger brought 10 major trophies to Arsenal between 1996 and 2018, three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.
But the unbeaten ‘Invincible’ season of 2003/04 was his last league title and significant numbers of Arsenal supporters had turned against him long before his departure, with many suggesting he outstayed his welcome and damaged his legacy.
Mourinho insisted his achievements should instead live long in the memory.
“My feeling is, where are the next ‘Invincibles’?” he said when asked about Wenger’s legacy.
“Where are they? Who did it again? Who made people forget that he was the manager of the invincible team? Lots of philosophy, lots of talk, lots of PR. Football today is a lot about this, but results, and who did better than him? Where is the next ‘Invincibles’?”
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