HEART OF FOOTBALL

Friendly can't shield animosity between Mourinho and Wenger

Radamel Falcao (third from left) and Diego Costa (right) will give Chelsea manager more options in attack and insurance when either striker gets injured.
Radamel Falcao (third from left) and Diego Costa (right) will give Chelsea manager more options in attack and insurance when either striker gets injured.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

It may be only the curtain-raiser to the new EPL season but the two managers won't have much charity for each other

Today's Community Shield match at Wembley Stadium has its intrigues, not the least of which will be Petr Cech lining up against Chelsea for the first time in a professional career that spanned 11 years and 13 trophies as the Blues' last line of defence.

"It will be an unknown feeling for me," the new Arsenal and now ex-Chelsea goalkeeper says.

"But once I am on the pitch, I want to win. For 90 or 120 minutes, however long it lasts, there are no friends."

No friends, precious little charity, and, if we are honest, no real portent how the 2015-16 English Premier League (EPL) season will go.

Arsenal won the last Community Shield game at Wembley (3-0 over Manchester City) and came a distant third, 12 points behind the EPL champions Chelsea.

January 2014 was a dreadful month for Walcott and Falcao. When the knee ligaments rupture, careers are threatened. And while Walcott has shown glimpses of his former self (in fact, he says he is faster than before), there has been little evidence that Falcao, the Colombian Tiger, is the same player.

Indeed, only once in the last five years has the winner of the pre-season showpiece gone on to win the league, and that was Manchester United in 2010.

So it is a dawn as false as the old name, the Charity Shield, proved to be.

The Premiership is not at all charitable, as the enmity between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger surely tells us.

The name of this curtain-raiser changed to the Community Shield 13 years ago after the Charity Committee accused the Football Association of failing to disclose where the proceeds from ticket sales actually went.

It is still a shield, but very different to the origins of this event which started in the year 1898 as the Sheriff of London Shield for amateurs versus professionals.

I guess the reports of Theo Walcott signing a new contract on Friday for £140,000 (S$300,000) per week just about scotches any lingering notions of playing for the love of the game.

Walcott at his best is a fine, and very speedy, player. He is at the peak of his earning powers.

But Arsenal have nursed him through a traumatic injury after his ruptured anterior knee ligament in January 2014.

He has played a handful of complete games since. The medical staff must be very convinced that the sinew has healed, and that Walcott's prime asset, his extraordinary acceleration, can stand the rigours of up to as many as 60 games a year.

For good reason, Arsenal's best player of last season, Alexis Sanchez, will not be anywhere near selection today. He ran himself towards exhaustion and scored exquisite goals last season, in helping to raise the Gunners to yet another qualification for the Champions League.

He then jetted out to his homeland to help Chile win the Copa America for the first time in their history.

So Arsene Wenger would not countenance letting Sanchez run until he has rested properly between extended seasons.

The league, as they say, is a marathon, not a sprint.

Talking of sprinting, we cannot know how fit Diego Costa is for this afternoon. Mourinho told the press on Friday that he was ready but hamstrings are Costa's dodgy area, and he came back off the American pre-season tour limping slightly once more.

"All good," Mourinho reported. "We have three top strikers. If one is injured, we have two."

One of the three is Radamel Falcao whom Manchester United let go after a fallow year during which he scored just four goals on a season-long loan from Monaco.

Chelsea now have taken up that loan, and Falcao's agent is the same as Mourinho's.

The manager swears that Chelsea have tested every sinew in Falcao's body, and that there is no physical reason why he cannot be, at 29, the incredible predator he was before his cruciate ligament was torn.

January 2014 was a dreadful month for Walcott and Falcao. When the knee ligaments rupture, careers are threatened.

And while Walcott has shown glimpses of his former self (in fact, he says he is faster than before), there has been little evidence that Falcao, the Colombian Tiger, is the same player.

Time, and maybe even as early as today, will begin to tell for both men.

We have seen cameos during pre-season of two players - two teenagers freshly signed by Arsenal - who may grow into Walcott's role.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide, 17, from the suburbs of Paris, showed some bewitching movement and trickery.

Alex Iwobi, a nephew of the former Nigerian star forward Jay-Jay Okocha, displayed more stepovers than even Cristiano Ronaldo on his debut on the wing.

Those were in friendly matches at the Emirates last weekend. Today is a notch-up in serious play.

"It's more than a friendly," said Mourinho, "but less than a Premier League match."

The Community Shield was best described by Alex Ferguson in his United days as a "barometer for fitness".

There is the Cech element, because Mourinho admits he would never have let his former goalie cross London to a rival club despite phasing out Cech's career in favour of the younger Thibaut Courtois.

Roman Abramovich, the owner, overruled Mourinho and showed a touch of old-fashioned decency by allowing the faithful goalie to go on the final lap of his career.

Mourinho wanted to shovel Cech off to Paris St Germain, but the paymaster gave Cech, at 33 still a useful age for a 'keeper, the choice.

And now Cech says on the field there are no friends! There's gratitude for you.

Abramovich's decision transcends the narrow-mindedness of his coach. Wenger reaps the benefit.

Chelsea's coach was at it again this weekend, telling reporters that if he had failed to beat a rival (as Wenger has done in 13 games against Mourinho), he would "find solutions".

Mourinho also called Wenger a cheque-book manager because he paid £42.5 million for Mesut Oezil and £35 million for Sanchez.

This is bare-faced hypocrisy.

Arsenal are playing catch-up as a spender after the billion, or more, that Abramovich invested after purchasing Chelsea a dozen years ago.

A pre-season friendly? Can there be any such thing between Wenger's club and Mourinho's?

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Friendly can't shield animosity between Mourinho and Wenger'. Print Edition | Subscribe