Jose Mourinho may have won his third Premier League trophy in dominant fashion, but he is yet to make something brilliant, beautiful, and artistic that will be fondly recalled once he has retired.
Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger don’t have to worry about that. If Mourinho is a big-mouthed bus-driver who will take you on a boring, scenery-less ride, van Gaal and Wenger are the narrators of capturing stories who offer you unforgettable journeys.
The two big managers have a lot more in common than is usually reported.
1.Ajax 1994-96 and Arsenal 2003-04 have to be considered among the best teams ever
In my book, there was no football team that were as dominant as Ajax in 1994-96. They went on to win the treble in 1994-95 without a single defeat in all competitions with the de Boer brothers, Litmanen, van der Sar, Seedorf, Overmars, Kanu, Rijkaard and Kluivert led by van Gaal’s iron hand. It’s difficult to pick whether it was more impressive that they had beaten reigning champions AC Milan twice during the group stage before beating them once more in the final, or the way they dispatched Bayern München in the semifinals (5:2). They should have defended their title in 1995-96 – the way they demolished both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund on their way to the final was spectacular – but Juventus won the title on penalties.
Arsenal 2003-04 deserved much more than they get as well. Our Invincibles should have won the treble – a lot of bad luck against Manchester United in the FA Cup semifinals and Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals ruined that dream – but nobody could stop those boys from writing history in winning the league without a single defeat.
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Henry, Pires, Vieira, Bergkamp, Ljungberg and others were a pen with which Arsene Wenger wrote the most beautiful story in the history of English football. Depending on your taste, you could pick between “The Sonnet of Henry” written against Liverpool at Highbury or “Martin Keown’s Special: How to teach Ruud boy a lesson” at Old Trafford.
2.Both teams were stopped by historical changes in the market
Both managers would have had more luck with their respective super-teams if they hadn’t been negatively affected by revolutionary changes in the market. Who knows what would have happened if Ajax had managed to keep their stars away from the consequences of Bosman ruling or Roman Abramovich had been interested in, say, basketball and not football.
3.Patrick Vieira, Nwankwo Kanu, and Marc Overmars
Patrick Vieira’s career hadn’t been heading in the right direction in 1995-96. He was purchased by AC Milan but didn’t find his feet in Italy. In the summer of 1996, two managers with an ability to recognize special talent tried to get his signature, and it was a first big victory for Arsene Wenger over Louis van Gaal – in which we had a dispute over agents’ fees to be thankful for (via www.dnaindia.com) that Patrick didn’t join Ajax.
Nwankwo Kanu, on the other hand, has bragging rights on the fact he was a member of both great teams. Just like Vieira, Kanu was brought to Arsenal from Milano – he had a rather unsuccessful spell burdened with health issues.
Finally, Marc Overmars used to serve van Gaal with his blistering pace and precise shots with either foot before he went on to play a huge role in Arsene Wenger’s first double in 1997-98.
4.Both managers are among the oldest in the League
Arsene Wenger had been the oldest active manager in the Premier League – with Louis van Gaal just behind him – before Dick Advocaat took the job at Sunderland. No country for old men, did someone say?
5.There hasn’t been a single home victory in their previous four encounters
In 1999-2000, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona met in the Champions League First Group Stage. Our trip to Camp Nou didn’t start well – Luis Enrique handed the lead to the hosts after 16 minutes and it looked like a powerful Barcelona led by Rivaldo, Figo and Kluivert would cruise to victory. However, with nine minutes to go, Davor Šuker tried from outside of the box. Ruud Hesp deflected the shot which fell to Kanu, the Nigerian scoring an equaliser and making amends for a missed penalty in Florence three weeks earlier.
Unfortunately, we had played our home matches at Wembley where we didn’t feel comfortable, so Barcelona seized their opportunity and won in the reverse fixture 4:2. Luis Enrique, Rivaldo, Figo, and Cocu were on the score-sheet for the visitors while the Dutchmen Bergkamp and Overmars spared us from a humiliating defeat.
Two legendary managers had to wait for fifteen years to meet again, with van Gaal in charge of Manchester United this time. It was all Arsenal, but United got themselves a smash’n’grab victory thanks to a Kieran Gibbs’ own goal and Wayne Rooney’s counter-attack – Olivier Giroud’s stunning finish only a consolation. Arsene Wenger’s first victory over his counterpart took place in the FA Cup at Old Trafford. We took the lead through Nacho Monreal’s sublime finish, before Wayne Rooney headed home to even the score. Danny Welbeck’s perfect interception enabled the Englishman to knock his former team out of the competition.
Hopefully, the tradition will continue!