IT has been the most contentious coaching rivalry in the 26-year history of the Premier League, with their verbal barbs in news conferences even spilling over to physical confrontations on the touchline.
Yet Jose Mourinho chose the day Arsene Wenger announced his impending departure from Arsenal to underline the respect he has for his long-time foe and express his wish that Wenger continues in soccer management.
"You don't know the way we respect each other," Mourinho said Friday (Saturday, Manila time), "even though sometimes it looks like in some moments we don't."
It certainly didn't look that way when Mourinho was calling Wenger a "specialist in failure" during Arsenal's nine years without winning trophy (2005-14). Or when he called the Frenchman a "voyeur" because of his regular comments about Mourinho's former club, Chelsea.
Or when he expressed, more than once, his surprise at Wenger never being under pressure for his job during his lean years at Arsenal, or that he got special treatment from authorities.
Wenger wasn't blameless, though. Who could forget the incident at Stamford Bridge in 2014 when Wenger shoved Mourinho in the chest during an argument on the touchline during a Chelsea-Arsenal match?
"Players get yellow cards, red cards by aggression and actions against each other, or bad words during the career," Mourinho said. "Managers are the same thing and probably, in the end, the ones that respect more each other.
"It's power against power, quality against quality, ambition against ambition. But in the end, it's people from the same business, people that respect each other and each others' careers. It's not about regret; it happened."
Mourinho said Wenger deserved credit not just for winning three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups in England, and also overseeing Arsenal's transition from Highbury to Emirates Stadium midway through his reign of more than 21 years, but also what he brought to French soccer (with Monaco) and Japanese soccer (with Grampus Eight) earlier in his managerial career.
"If he's happy with the decision he made, if he looks forward to the next chapter of his career and his life, I am happy for him. If he's sad, I'm sad," Mourinho said. "I hope he doesn't retire from football."
Arsenal travels to play United on April 29, and Mourinho said his club would show Wenger the "respect that he deserves."
There was an outpouring of tributes for Wenger across English soccer on Friday:
ALEX FERGUSON (former Manchester United manager)
"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 ... 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."
PEP GUARDIOLA (Manchester City manager)
"He is a huge personality. The Premier League is the Premier League because of what he has done and his vision. Hopefully he will be involved in a different way in world football."
ANTONIO CONTE (Chelsea manager)
"Arsene is one of the managers who has had great influence in football. In every moment, he tried to play good and creative and offensive football. This is also a great achievement. It will be very difficult to see in the future another manager staying at the same club for such a long time."
THIERRY HENRY (former Arsenal player)
"It's a sad day for me. I am happy in a way that people are going to, hopefully, give him the exit he deserves ... I remember when I used to play for Arsenal, people were talking about the way we were playing, how Arsene changed Arsenal into a well-recognized club in the world."
RICHARD SCUDAMORE (Premier League chairman)
"It is hard to encapsulate the enormity of Arsene Wenger's contribution to Arsenal Football Club, the Premier League and football generally over these past 22 seasons. All of Arsene's teams have been a joy to watch and his 2003-04 'Invincibles' will go down as one of the best in English football history."