In practice, this is expected to be a match between Arsenal’s kids and fringe players and Chelsea’s second XI. When said second XI contains Juan Mata it stretches credulity to consider it a reserve side, but still, the fact extortionate ticket prices are slashed for League Cup games at Arsenal tells you this is not really a fixture to get the blood stirring. It is a phoney war, a faux conflict.
This jarring gap between appearance and reality is to some extent mirrored in the two men in the dugout. Because, if you believe the Ballon d’Or shortlist which was released on Tuesday morning, this fixture features a full fifth of the best coaches in the world in 2013 – Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho making up two of the 10-man shortlist.
Not that one should ever expend too much energy picking apart the frequently ludicrous annual awards shortlists, but FIFA’s inclusion of both men invites ridicule nonetheless. Are we really to believe they are among the 10 best coaches in the world this year?
For the record, here is the full list: Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid/ex-Paris St-Germain), Rafael Benitez (Napoli/ex-Chelsea), Antonio Conte (Juventus), Vicente Del Bosque (Spain), Sir Alex Ferguson (ex-Manchester United), Jupp Heynckes (ex-Bayern Munich), Jurgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund), Jose Mourinho (Chelsea/ex-Real Madrid), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Brazil), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal).
Heynckes is obviously going to win, having steered Bayern Munich to a magnificent treble in his final year as a coach. Ancelotti won Ligue 1, Benitez secured the Europa League despite huge enmity from Chelsea fans, Conte retained his Serie A title, Fergie went out with yet another league medal and Scolari won the Confederations Cup with Brazil. All impeccable achievements and deserving of a place on the list.
Furthermore Klopp, though he was denied a medal come May, has constructed a wonderful Dortmund side whose success in reaching the final of the Champions League was one of the stories of the season, irrespective of their eventual defeat. They are also becoming a real cultural reference point despite Klopp working with a budget that is dwarfed by most of his rivals.
That leaves three. Del Bosque – who saw his Spain side beaten 3-0 in the Confederations Cup and then qualified for the World Cup with little noticeable flair – is a curious inclusion. But more confusing still is the presence of the two Premier League coaches.
Arsenal have, in truth, been in excellent form since March and an ultimately futile 2-0 win away at Bayern Munich in the Champions League. They have lost only two games in 26, winning 21 and drawing three. Yet the sum of their tangible achievement has been fourth place in the league: they needed a remarkably strong finish to make up for a near ruinous first half of the season.
Oh, and 2013 witnessed the inauspicious event of being knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers. That was one of only four games that Michael Appleton won as Rovers boss before his awfully negative reign was brought to an end after just 15 games in charge of the farcical Championship club.
Signing Mesut Ozil and taking Arsenal back to the top of the table has raised the tantalising possibility that this season could fully rehabilitate Wenger’s career, just when it seemed on the verge of terminal decline – but as yet this is a unfinished story. Based on what we know for certain, is he one of the best 10 coaches in the world in 2013? No. If this was a 30-man shortlist then maybe; 50 certainly.
Which brings us to Mourinho. He is one of the most charismatic figures football has seen, a coaching colossus who by the time he has finished his career may have the most impressive record ever seen in the European Cup. Yet even by his own admission, this has been the worst year of his managerial career.
Diego Simeone: Surely worthy of a place
Towards the tail end of May - in the wake of a shock defeat to local rivals Atletico Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey which ended Real’s hopes of a trophy in 2012-13 – Mourinho described his season as “disastrous … what for many would be a good season is my worst. We have been close but that does not exist in football."
He fell out with senior players, finished off the pace in La Liga, lost in the cup final to a team Real never lose to and was dumped out of the Champions League following a four-goal performance from Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski.
Still, that body of work was apparently enough to convince the compilers of the Ballon d’Or list, who appear to be suffering from an alarming lack of imagination. Wenger and Mourinho have been included on reputation alone, exposing FIFA’s awards again for what they always are: popularity contests, rather than genuine markers of achievement.
There are plenty of worthy alternatives. Why not swap Mourinho for the man who defeated him in the Copa del Rey final? Diego Simeone won a trophy and has fashioned perennial under-achievers into legitimate title-contenders, with Atleti sitting just a point behind Barcelona in La Liga and five ahead of Real as we speak.
Instead of Wenger, how about Vincenzo Montella, whose achievement in taking Fiorentina fourth in Serie A last season, while building an attractive and stylish side, is surely more impressive than Arsenal doing the same for another year. Why not Walter Mazzarri, who came second with Napoli? Or Philippe Montanier, whose Real Sociedad side beat Malaga and Valencia to fourth in La Liga? What of Frank de Boer, who took Ajax to a third successive league title? Vitor Pereira went a 30-game season unbeaten with Porto too.
And why FIFA couldn't find a place for Stephen Keshi, who actually won the African Cup of Nations with Nigeria in February, or Safet Susic, the man who took Bosnia to the World Cup finals, is beyond all comprehension. To include Wenger and Mourinho instead of these men makes a mockery of the very nature of the award.
Picking holes in FIFA logic is a practice more reminiscent of nuking whales in a tea cup than shooting fish in a barrel - and often tiresome at that - but it still needs to be pointed out at times.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jose Mourinho
- Arsene Wenger
- Jurgen Klopp
- Bayern Munich
- League Cup
- Vicente Del Bosque
- Borussia Dortmund
- Luiz Felipe Scolari
- Rafael Benitez