EUROPA LEAGUE: Compassionate Naples boss Carlo Ancelotti recalls Arsene Wenger with a smile as he hails Unai Emery’s Arsenal
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Ernest Hemmingway once wrote: ‘You can beat a man but you must never humiliate him.’
It seems like yesterday.
It seems like a lifetime ago: March 7, 2017.
The date? The last time Carlo Ancelotti managed a team at the Emirates.
The result? Arsenal 1-5 Bayern Munich. Two weeks after Bayern Munich beat Arsenal 5-1 at the Allianz Stadium.
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The aggregate scoreline precipitated the final time Arsene Wenger managed a team in the Champions League.
Ancelotti’s post-match press conference deep in the bowels of the stadium in N5 following his 10-2 aggregate victory was a study in compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence.
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The respect he showed his routed counterpart, Arsene Wenger, was masterful, even after a complete and utter humiliation for the North London giants.
It was also full of pity, whether he meant it or not.
Because powerful people, including football bosses – especially football bosses - only offer pity when they no longer feel threatened.
It is the biggest insult to proud men, even if they mean no offence other than to strain every sinew to achieve victory over an opponent.
Arsenal were broken that night in North London. Looking back something else broke during that awful evening at the Emirates: Wenger’s hold on the ‘job of his life’ as he called it.
This correspondent covered both legs of that tumultuous tie and noted how shellshocked Wenger looked in Munich after the first leg.
What happened he was asked in Germany?
The long-serving Frenchman replied his team were not ready. It was an answer that spoke volumes. For a team that is not ready is one that is not prepared. Not able.
Not good enough.
Did Wenger know the game was up then? Perhaps. But he would never admit it – even after the second 5-1 thrashing 14 days later at the Emirates.
Yet the fans knew that Wenger wasn’t able to do the job any more.
And the realisation hurt everyone who cared about this grand old club.
The wise Ancelotti, arched eyebrow and beguiling sardonic wit was asked to recall that night and that tie ahead of his Napoli side taking on Arsenal in the first leg of the quarter finals of the Europa League on Thursday.
He said: “If I say I forgot, that is wrong. Every game is a different story. That game is only a good memory [for me].
“But it’s a totally different story now. A different manager with different style and different team with new players.
“It’s a new era for Arsenal. They are competitive in the Premier League and in Europe.
“We have respect for this team and this club. We are honoured to play against Arsenal.”
The wily Ancelotti is well aware Emery’s Arsenal has been strong at the Emirates this term, conceding only one goal in five European home matches, winning their last ten on the bounce in North London.
However, the Gunners disappointing 1-0 loss to Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday coupled with Chelsea beating West Ham 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Monday saw Emery’s side slip back into fifth place as the race for a coveted top four spot hots up.
Arsenal’s best hope of a route back to the promised land of the Champions League will be edging past Naples to set up a semi-final against Villarreal or Valencia with tournament favourites Chelsea perhaps to face in the final in Baku at the end of May.
Yet, ever the diplomat Ancelotti was full of praise for his Europa League counterpart Emery.
He said: “Unai Emery is, in my opinion, a fantastic manager with a lot of knowledge.
“He has more experience in the Europa League than me. He has experience of this kind of game and the fact he is on the bench of Arsenal will be more difficult for us.”
Ancelotti is an impressive man. It is no wonder he has won three Champions League titles.
Pressed again on Wenger the former Chelsea man employed his wit to deflect a direct question on whether he spoke with the Frenchman about taking over his role at Arsenal last May.
With a twinkle in his eye and compassion – not pity for his colleague this time – he replied: “I spoke with Arsene, he is a good friend of mine.
“We [spoke when we] had a meeting in Geneva in September, but not before.
“I was not involved in the new era of Arsenal without Arsene. I sometimes talk with him but not about his replacement.”
One last question.
What did he talk about with Wenger?
That sardonic wit again as Ancelotti replied about a conversation that felt like yesterday but also a lifetime ago: “We talked wine, food, Italian food, French food.”
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29