Of Wenger, Mourinho, and Özil: a contrast in styles

Now that we’ve advanced in the league cup, we’ll face Chelsea in round four at the end of October as well as in late December in the Prem. Of course, most of the news out of Stamford Bridge centers around the conflict between José Mourinho and Juan Mata, a carry-over of a recent trend that has seen the manager run down players at

each club he’s managed, whether it’s Mata at Chelsea, Casillas at Real Madrid, or Balotelli at Inter. It seems almost to be a calling-card or a running joke: how do you know that Mourinho has managed a team? One of its best or brightest has been ground down into dust. Of course, for those players whom he favors, the sun couldn’t shine brighter and the birds couldn’t sing sweeter. That’s all well and good for those favored few, and perhaps it’s a useful motivational lever on the rest of the squad. However, the contrast between Mourinho and Wenger couldn’t be more stark, as Mourinho has developed a reputation for a certain nomadism and penchant for undermining players to prove a point while Wenger has, for better or worse, now stands apart for his longevity and for his ability to support and develop players into superstars.

Setting aside my own personal, sentimental reasons, I really do hope that we deliver at least three spankings to Mourinho, if not just to progress in the league cup or climb the Prem table [editor: we’re top of the table] but to send a message. That message? One can and should build success on a foundation of building players up, not on tearing them down. I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for Casillas, and this might bias me a bit against Mourinho. Casillas is easily on the short-list for the world’s best keepers, and he seems, by all accounts, to be a class-act as well. To see how his career withered on the vine under Mourinho is therefore an issue for me. For as well as Diego López has done, the fact that he’s benefitted from the submarining (sub-mourinho-ing? too much?) of Casillas’s career is too much for me to stomach.

To then see the same happen to Juan Mata, who I’ve heard turns in a tolerably decent shift from time to time, is more than a bit aggravating. Yes, I know that we could’ve had him a few years back and were even linked to him over the past summer, but that’s not what I’m going on about at the moment. Long story short, I can’t stand a manager who will undermine a player to prove a point. The lame excuse for Mata’s dilemma is that his abilities don’t suit Mourinho’s preferred tactics. When you have a player of Mata’s qualities, why not just explain those tactics and ask him to play to those tactics? I’m sure Mata is more than willing to give it a try. Instead of sussing that out privately between them, Mourinho seems to have opted for publicly undermining the player, apparently to send a message to the rest of the squad that he’s in charge, dammit, and that reputations, achievements, or careers matter little if it all.

At the other end of the spectrum then is Arsène Wenger, who has built and staked his name on his ability to find, sign, and develop unheralded players into superstars. Again and again and again, Arsène has proven himself to be a master of actual management—at least as defined in terms of making players and squads better than they might otherwise have been. Given the talent that has surrounded Mourinho at almost every club he’s managed, it’s hard to assess just how good each squad might have otherwise been without him—how much of a difference, for example, did he make for a Real Madrid squad that features some of the world’s best, such as Ronaldo, Casillas, Alonso, and Ramos? By contrast, how well would Arsenal have done without Arsène? With the temporary exceptions of van Persie and Fàbregas, which Gunners could we name as established, world-class players? A select few.

The point here is that, between Mourinho and Arsène, the former gets about as much as you might expect out of a squad, given its talent, and the latter gets a bit more than you might expect—even if that hasn’t been quite enough to fully satisfy the Arsenal faithful.

The tie that binds, then, is one Mesut Özil. He was good at Real Madrid, no doubt, but he did so under a manager who seems to insist, nay demand, absolute fealty. As such, all of Özil’s gaudy statistics, whether it’s key passes or assists or chances created, might actually do the man a disservice, as he was playing within a system not necessarily tailored to his abilities. Put another way, Özil had to play Mourinho’s way or get Mourinho-ed. Freed from that strait-jacket, playing in a system and philosophy and under a management style that fosters and encourages, we might actually see a version of Özil that renders the pre-Arsenal Özil absolutely obsolete. That would be exciting to see on two levels: one, it would catapult us towards the top of the Prem; and, two, it would further validate Arsène’s philosophy of maximizing the potential of each player.Yes, the name on the front of the shirt matters more than the name on the back, but the two dance a delicate minuet. Under Arsène, we might just see an Özil unchained and free to explore the full range of his skills, and that would be an exciting thing indeed.

By the time these two clubs meet in the league cup’s fourth round, we may have a clearer sense of what Mata’s role will be. We’ll almost certainly have a stronger sense of Özil’s contributions to the squad as he’ll have four more matches under his belt by the tame we face Chelsea. Despite our rivalry, I respect Mata and would like to see him treated better than this.

Right. I’ll walk the line of rooting for Mata while rooting against Mourinho. It’s a fine line, no doubt. While I do that, I hope you’ll consider voting for this blog in the Football Blogging Awards. Woolwich 1886 has been nominated as a Best New Blog. You can vote via twitter by clicking here or via email by clicking here. I hope I’ve given you food for thought, at least enough to have earned your support. Thanks, as always, for your visit.

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9 thoughts on “Of Wenger, Mourinho, and Özil: a contrast in styles

  1. Anonymous

    How do you substantiate the lack of trophy's for 8 years and losing your best players or rather captains?? Its a clear message that the players who became stars under wenger no longer trust him.. another year no trophy to arsenal would see Ozil move to Bayern ..

  2. Anonymous

    It's not the lack of faith in the manager you moron, it was down to a lack of player investment that moved the players on……..some boomers have NO brain cells left.

  3. Anonymous

    Hahaha….why dont you carry on with your glory hunting ways and not bother to come around arsenal blogs? We couldn't care a rats ass about people like you.

  4. Anonymous

    I may sound like a Mourinho apologist , but I think much of what you said is wrong.As for Mourinho and balotelli ,Mourinho trusted him (despite the crazy) and gave him a number of opportunities first team games when he was a teenager , so Mourinho actually made him a star , rather than waste his talent. I love Balo and think he's a great talent , but no-one denies he's batshit crazy. he picked fights with mancini and often got himself sent off and red-carded in crucial games at Inter and man City. Casillas has a strong repuation (Mourinho called him the best goalkeeper in the world in 2011), but his form at the start of the season before he was dropped was atrocious. Have you listened to what Mourinho and Mata have actually said? Mourinho said that e wants his attackers to contribute more when the side is out of possession (in pressing and regaining the ball) and that Juan Mata will have to adapt to playing that way. Juan mata as said in quotes that Mourinho has talked to him about this and he has been training to improve in those areas. In the post-Swindon game the assistant coach talked about how much he improved in that aspect.””Of course he fits into my plans. I have my idea about him, about where he produces better and where he has more difficulty. We will try to help him perform better in those situations.”-MourinhoDoes this sound like a man who wants to run down Mata ? Or help improve weaknesses in Mata's game. I think the Real Madrid system was actually well tailored to Ozil strengths imo. I think Mourinho does want specific things out of his attackers in both their contribution on and off the ball/. I think all managers eg Wenger/Pep wants things from his attackers too though.

  5. Anonymous

    I'll mention that Wenger has made similar decisions. He benched club captain Vermalen for Koscielny when the latter was in better form and Verm wasn't playing well. This isn't any different from Mourinho benching an out of form player like Casillas

  6. Anonymous

    The Chelsea manager added: ‘He [Juan Mata] has a professional attitude. He made a big effort to come in my direction. So now I come to his direction.’-From presser today. Seems like Mourinho really hates Mata.

  7. Anonymous

    Good to know. I never meant to suggest that Mourinho hates Mata, just that it seems odd for the man to unsettle or disrupt one of the most dynamic and vital squad-members. It's good of Mourinho to speak those words, but I'm not so sure that Mata displayed an unprofessional attitude in the first place. There's certainly nothing wrong with benching a player who's lost his form, but I'd submit that Wenger did so with Vermaelen and Szczesny without undermining either player's dignity or self-respect. In the cases of Casillas and Mata, however, it has sometimes seemed that Mourinho was trying to prove a larger point at the expense of the player in question.

  8. Anonymous

    The situation is a bit more complex than you're suggesting. we had to finance a stadium. Footballing also entered an era in which oligarchs could simply buy any player they wanted. These factors ran against Wenger's philosophy of developing young talent because, when those other clubs came calling, we were cornered, forced to sell our best players to finance the stadium or lose them on free transfers. For every Fabregas we've lost, there's an Adebayor we're happy to be done with. On the whole, there's a decent balance that has seen us contend with clubs that outspend us by absurd amounts. Once FFP comes in, we should see a very different Arsenal (I hope…).


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