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SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES

Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho coach, and talk, a good game

Win or lose (and they usually win), Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and Inter Milan's Jose Mourinho almost always have something interesting to say.

September 27, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES | ON SOCCER

If there were a ranking for coaches in European soccer and if that ranking were based solely on results, Manchester United's Alex Ferguson would surely come out at or near the top.

But forget results for the time being, forget the wins and losses, the trophies won and the championships claimed.

What if the ranking were based on quotes and nothing more?

What if the ability to say something unusual, to venture verbally beyond the banal, were considered? With that as the only criterion, who wins then?

Based on recent comments, it would be a close call between Arsenal's resident Frenchman, Arsene Wenger, and Inter Milan's resident Portuguese, Jose Mourinho.

Wenger goes for the intellectual approach, mixed with a bit of humor. Mourinho opts for the scathing comment, the put-down, the confrontational choice.

Both avenues work and both men find their words circling the globe and being met, alternately, with interest, amusement and outrage. On Saturday, the coaches were on the differing end of two 1-0 results.

"We compensated for a lack of fluidity and cohesion with attitude, spirit and desire," Wenger said after Arsenal had struggled to defeat Fulham.

"I'm the coach. I decide, and I don't have to explain," Mourinho said after Inter Milan had been upset by Sampdoria.

Those are tame examples, of course. In recent weeks, the pair has employed far more colorful language.

Drinking in the atmosphere

Just the other day, for instance, Wenger, who turns 60 next month, was motivated to tell an extraordinary story about his childhood in the French village of Duttlenheim, where his parents owned and operated a pub called La Croix d'Or.

"There is no better psychological education than growing up in a pub," he said at a soccer management conference, "because when you are five or six years old, you meet all different people and hear how cruel they can be to each other.

"I learned about tactics and selection from people talking about football in the pub -- who plays on the left wing and who should be in the team."

There was more.

"In our job, you need to be an animal, in that you need a certain physical power to convince a group of players that they can win. When that strength has gone, you have a handicap but you can make up for it with experience."

And more still.

"The most important thing in our job is to understand what's important in life. If you don't understand how to live at 20, you are finished."

Wenger, who on Monday will celebrate 13 years in charge at Arsenal, winning three league championships and four F.A. Cups and reaching the European Champions League final in 2006, is not always so serious.

When one of his players recently was accused of misdeeds on the field, his reaction was to joke.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "My eyes are not great and my ears are even worse."

Such lightheartedness does not hide the fact that Wenger, like all top-flight coaches, feels the pressure. After being knocked out by Manchester United in last season's Champions League semifinals, he talked about the criticism directed his way and at the team.

"Every day you feel you have killed someone," he told England's Guardian newspaper. "It is unbelievable.

"We lose against Manchester United, who have 10 times more resources, it's not a shame. They are the best in the world. Congratulations to them. If you play tennis tomorrow and you lose against [Rafael] Nadal, you can still say you are a good player."

Meanwhile in Milan

After Inter Milan had crushed rival AC Milan, 4-0, earlier this season, Mourinho, who has won the Champions League with FC Porto, two Premier League titles with Chelsea and the Serie A with Inter, was his usual superbly superior self.

"The result speaks for itself, there's no discussion," he said. "I didn't leave the stadium last week crying after the draw with Bari and I'm not leaving with a bottle of champagne after this win."

Mourinho can match Wenger stride for stride when it comes to reeling off cliche-free sentences with a bit of thought behind them.

"We have players, talent, mentality, organization but we need instinct and dynamism," he said when evaluating his team's 0-0 Champions League tie with European champion Barcelona.

But Mourinho's relationship with the Italian media has been prickly since he left Chelsea to coach Inter Milan last year. Perhaps that is because his bite has a bit more mongrel to it than Wenger's.

On Saturday, he grudgingly ended a boycott of the media that began in the wake of what he viewed as unwarranted criticism.

"I'm not continuing my silence because the club asked me because of contracts with you," Mourinho snapped at Sky television. "If it were up to me, the silence would continue."

This follows his refusal to talk to the press during Inter Milan's North American tour in the summer and his extraordinarily undiplomatic comments when Inter played in China.

"After the first two questions, I know why Chinese football is so rubbish and why China has won gold medals in so many sports but not football, because the journalists are so unprofessional," he said in Beijing.

Whether Mourinho, 46, intentionally tries to be outrageous, or whether it is simply a holdover from his days in England when he provided daily fodder for the tabloids, is unclear. But he is so used to making off-the-cuff remarks now that even FIFA has compiled a collection of them on its website.

"If they made a film of my life," reads one, "I think they should get George Clooney to play me. He's a fantastic actor and my wife thinks he would be ideal."

One thing is certain: It wouldn't be a silent movie.

--

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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