Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson rattled Kevin Keegan’s cage so violently that the then Newcastle United boss suffered an infamous meltdown live on Sky Sports, mind games have been Box Office.
When Arsene Wenger squared up to Jose Mourinho the verbals were less dramatic. But the venom was just as strong, as the elegant Frenchman momentarily turned into the Mad Professor.
The retaliation by the self-appointed Special One resulted in a comical exchange that was farcical in the extreme. A petulant push by Wenger. A mischievous flick of the tie by Mourinho.
Say what you like about bringing the game into disrepute and setting an example for the kids. The truth is football fans and the media loved an exchange that will be talked about long after most of us forget the intimate details of what happened on the pitch.
Not that the match was forgettable. Far from it. This was an almighty scrap that could have resulted in 5 or 6 red cards and ended in a knockout by the team In the Blue corner.
Arsene’s Reds lack the bottle and the killer instinct to down their West End superiors and that is what really hurts Wenger.
He is yet to beat Mourinho on the pitch and he’s losing the battle off it too. Just like Ferguson owned Keegan and Rafa Benitez when the Liverpool boss lost the plot with his famous rant about “the facts” in 2009, Mourinho owns Wenger when it comes to mind games.
Chelsea are a cut above Arsenal and always have been when Mourinho has been manager at the Bridge.
But ask yourself which manager would you prefer to be in charge of your team and it’s not such an easy decision.
Over the weekend I was at the Henley Literary Festival where high profile sports journalists Paddy Barclay, Matt Dickinson and Guillem Balague were promoting their respective books about Herbert Chapman, Bobby Moore and Lionel Messi
When the subject turned to the rivalry between Wenger and Mourinho the audience were asked by Barclay to make their choice. The show of hands confirmed the theory of Times Chief Sports Correspondent Dickenson that this is split decision.
And that is where the real argument begins.
Would you prefer your team to play the beautiful game with the purist ideals of the man who has delivered a style of football that is so pleasing on the eye?
Or is football all about winning whatever the method? And there is no doubting the fact that Mourinho is a serial winner.
At Stamford Bridge the priceless combination of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas magnified the gulf between Arsenal and Chelsea. But the cynical tactic of breaking up the Gunners rhythm by systematically fouling them high up the pitch gave the Blues the platform to control the match and inflict their killer blows in a decisive 2-0 win.
It is no secret that Mourinho wanted to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. The fact that he was overlooked by the one manager he truly respects when his good friend turned kingmaker may provide the verdict of English football’s biggest club Manchester United.
Many Old Trafford fans secretly adore the showmanship and winning mentality of Mourinho. But there is something about his methods that is alien to the Theatre of Dreams. Wenger on the other hand – despite the unsavoury abuse dished out by certain elements of United’s following – has the respect of every true Old Trafford purist.
When asked to choose between the two on Friday night I went for Wenger. Ask me tomorrow and I may give you a different answer.
Thankfully in my view my team has trumped both managers with Dutch master Louis Van Gaal. Ignore the jealous criticism from his fellow countryman Johan Cruyff who says United’s boss has abandoned the Dutch philosophy of total football. Cruyff will soon be eating his words. But that is a theme I’ll be expanding on in a future blog.