Ever since the Friday morning on which Arsene Wenger announced his Arsenal resignation, Jose Mourinho promised that he and Manchester United would show the managerial legend the “respect he deserves.”
And on Sunday, before Wenger’s final game at Old Trafford as Arsenal boss, Mourinho and the club followed through on their promise.
When Wenger stepped out of the visitors’ dugout minutes before kickoff, he was greeted by a thorough, warm round of applause from Manchester United fans. He was also greeted by two of his biggest touchline rivals throughout his 22 years at Arsenal: Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Mourinho shook Wenger’s hand, and led him pitchside, the two almost arm in arm. There waiting for Wenger was Ferguson – who retired in 2013 – with a gift for the Gunners’ boss. Wenger opened the box to reveal a fancy vase, and held it aloft as Old Trafford saluted him:
Both Mourinho and Ferguson had their arguments and differences with Wenger over the years. They were fierce on-field adversaries, with Wenger succeeding against Ferguson in the early years, but both Mourinho and Ferguson getting the better of Wenger over the latter half of his Arsenal reign.
Competition didn’t impede respect, though.
“I am sure Manchester United fans will remember all the years when Arsenal were their biggest rivals, and I am going to remember Arsene as a big opponent, the manager of the Invincibles,” Mourinho said before Sunday’s match. “That was my first year in this country. When I arrived in 2004, Arsenal had just won the title without being beaten. I would say the Invincibles made me a better coach and that is the way I will remember Arsene.”
Ferguson spoke about Wenger on the day of the original announcement:
“I am really happy for Arsene Wenger. I have great respect for him and for the job he has done at Arsenal. It is great testament to his talent, professionalism and determination that he has been able to dedicate 22 years of his life to a job that he loves.
“In an era where football managers sometimes only last one or two seasons, it shows what an achievement it is to serve that length of time at a club the size of Arsenal.
“I am pleased that he has announced he is leaving at this stage of the season, as he can now have the send-off that he truly deserves. He is, without doubt, one of the greatest Premier League managers and I am proud to have been a rival, a colleague and a friend to such a great man.”
Both Mourinho and Ferguson also recognize what Wenger has done for the Premier League, and for English football as a whole. So do Manchester United fans. And they made sure Wenger felt their appreciation.
During the game, those fans reverted to teasing the Arsenal manager. “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay,” they sung after United went 1-0 up through Paul Pogba. But the pregame moment was special, and well engineered by United.
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