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Wenger says Ranieri paved way for Mourinho to win title at Chelsea

Arsene Wenger and Claudio Ranieri, right, at the 2002 FA Cup final, in which Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/for the Guardian

Arsene Wenger and Claudio Ranieri, right, at the 2002 FA Cup final, in which Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/for the Guardian

Arsène Wenger says he is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Claudio Ranieri, the “great manager and great man” whom he credits with laying many of the foundations for the success that Chelsea have enjoyed in the last decade.

Arsenal travel to Ranieri’s high-flying Leicester City on Saturday, with the Frenchman unsurprised that his Italian counterpart has made a smooth return to the Premier League. Ranieri was manager at Stamford Bridge when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 but was given only one season under the Russian billionaire before being replaced by José Mourinho. The Portuguese led Chelsea to the Premier League title the following season with a team that Wenger believes was built primarily by Ranieri.

“When Claudio left Chelsea he had built the team that was so successful at the start,” said Wenger. “I remember them finishing second in the league with Ranieri and the team was upcoming with young players like John Terry and Frank Lampard, who were the players that contributed to the success of Chelsea.”

In the past Mourinho has scoffed at Ranieri’s managerial record and the relationship between the pair became particularly sour when both men managed in Italy, Mourinho at Internazionale and Ranieri at Juventus and then Roma. In one memorable clash in 2008, after Ranieri had accused the Portuguese of a lack of respect for snubbing post-match television interviews, Mourinho ridiculed Ranieri’s poor command of English while at Chelsea, claiming that “Ranieri had been in England for five years and he still struggled to say ‘good morning’.”

Wenger, by contrast, admires Ranieri and has kept track of his progress since leaving Chelsea and managing six other clubs and a national team – Greece – before returning to England with Leicester last summer. “I’ve followed his career because I have big respect for Claudio Ranieri. He’s a great manager and a great man.

Wenger was speaking before finding out whether Gabriel Paulista will be banned for the trip to Leicester following the charge for improper conduct that was brought against him for failing to leave the pitch promptly after being sent off in last weekend’s defeat at Chelsea. Gabriel’s red card, issued after he appeared to kick out at Diego Costa, was subsequently rescinded, a decision that Mourinho has decried as tantamount to legalising retaliation. Wenger accepts that Gabriel was out of order even if the centreback had been provoked.

Wenger also regretted, in response to a general question, the creeping popularity of the view that the result is the only thing that matter in football.

“Because the very thing that makes sport beautiful is winning while respecting the rules,” he said. “If you can do whatever you feel like, it’s no longer a sport, it’s just a street fight. There is an increasing view that only the result counts and it doesn’t matter how you get it. That’s a stance that sometimes puts you in a situation that can be difficult to maintain. It’s important that the spirit of sport wins out too.”

Wenger also returned to the case of Anthony Martial, saying that he did not think that the player could be prised from Monaco before Manchester United signed him for a fee that could rise to £58m.

“Monaco’s statement was always that two players – Martial and Layvin Kurzawa – would not move,” said Wenger. “I thought they would maintain that but in the end both of them moved [Martial to United, Kurzawa to Paris Saint-Germain].”

Some Arsenal supporters have criticised Wenger for not recruiting a specialist striker during the summer and leaving the club excessively reliant on Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. Wenger has explained that he could not find a suitable player at the right price. He has previously expressed surprise at the fee that United paid for Martial, a teenager whom Wenger considered to be more of a winger than a striker. That comment drew a pointed response this week from Martial’s agent, Philippe Lambolley, who declared that: “In football there are those who follow players and those who buy them.”

Wenger admits he did not expect Martial to be quite such an instant hit as a centre-forward in the Premier League but warned against placing too much expectation on the 19-year-old.

“He is more of a winger in while whole career,” said Wenger. “He played the final part of last season as a striker. [His prolific start at United] is a surprise because sometimes it’s quite difficult at the start. To maintain that will be very difficult for him so he will have to have some understanding of that as well if he starts to score less. He has already set the expectation level very high. But I’m not surprised that he’s done well because he’s a very talented player.”

Wenger also backed Alexis Sánchez to recover his best form after a below-par start to the season which the manager attributed to the forward’s involvement in Chile’s victorious Copa América campaign this summer.

“I think I played him very early before he was completely fit, physically, that is one explanation,” said Wenger. “The second is that every player who has won a big trophy with the national team takes some while to settle and come back to his best.” –the guardian –


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