High-profile figures from English football lined up to pay glowing tributes to Arsene Wenger on Friday as the Frenchman prepared to take charge of his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager.
Jose Mourinho wasn’t about to get carried away with the acclaim, however.
The Chelsea manager couldn’t resist a dig at a rival he has clashed with in the Premier League down the years, most recently calling him a “specialist in failure” after going the last eight seasons without winning a trophy.
When asked for a tribute to Wenger, Mourinho said: “The tribute is to say that I believe that, any one of us, we would love to have the same privilege (of being given time) with our clubs.”
While saying he admired Wenger, Mourinho praised Arsenal for standing by its manager “especially in bad moments - and especially when the bad moments were quite a lot.”
Wenger’s landmark match is against Chelsea on Saturday, and the Arsenal manager hasn’t won any of his past nine meetings with Mourinho.
Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson - one of three other coaches to have been in charge of a team for 1,000 games - was much more congratulatory, calling it a “momentous landmark.”
“I cannot emphasize enough the level of dedication, resilience as well as sacrifice required and for that I have for the utmost admiration,” Ferguson said in a statement released by the League Managers Association.
“Over the years, we enjoyed some fantastic battles and you could say we had survived together and respected each other’s efforts to play good football. I always enjoy watching Arsene’s sides - Arsenal play the right way.”
LMA chairman Howard Wilkinson praised Wenger “on his extraordinary level of performance and all that he has brought to our game.”
Wenger, who joined Arsenal in 1996 and has won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups, was presented with a miniature golden cannon by club chairman Chips Keswick on Friday to honor his achievement.
“You have transformed the beautiful game back into being a beautiful game, and long may it last,” Keswick said, “and long may you continue to lead us.”
Arsenal’s last piece of major silverware came in 2005 when it won the FA Cup, but the team is challenging for the league title and is in the semifinals of the FA Cup.
“I accepted to stay here a long time knowing that we had little chance to win the Premiership, but now we are in a position again where we can fight with other clubs to sign big players,” Wenger said.
“I have the energy, believe me, and the excitement, but I want to do well. I do not stay here because I have been here a long time, but because I feel I respond to the expectation of our fans and of the people of the club.”
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