LONDON: Arsene Wenger sits intently on the bench, analysing every move, working out his next tactical switch.
Gordon Strachan paces up and down, shouting at his players and reacting with rage to every blunder by his players or the referee.
The quiet, steely gray-haired Frenchman bears no similarity to the noisy, impatient Scottish redhead.
The only thing they will have in common today is that they each got their teams to the FA Cup final and will lead them out before 75,000 fans at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
For Wenger it’s not a new experience.
Arsenal won the title last season and were runners-up to Liverpool the year before. Wenger also took the Gunners to a triumph at Wembley in 1998 as well as winning league titles in 1998 and 2002.
Strachan and his Southampton team hardly know the way to the final.
The Saints had a memorable victory over Manchester United in 1976 when Lawrie McMenemy’s Division Two team won 1-0 for the club’s only major honour in their 118-year history. They reached the final in 1900 and 1902 and a League Cup final in 1979 finished runners-up in the league in 1984.
And that’s where the Saints are expected to finish again this time.
Wenger’s team are hot favourites to win the trophy for the second season in a row, especially having thrashed Southampton 6-1 in the league two weeks ago.
But Strachan is not the sort of manager who accepts second best. With the Gunners guaranteed a Champions League berth by finishing runners-up to Manchester United in the Premier League, that means Saints will go into the UEFA Cup, win or lose.
That’s not enough for the proud Scot, a former Aberdeen, Manchester United and Leeds midfielder.
While Wenger had little success as a player with French clubs Mulhouse and Strasbourg, Strachan collected two Scottish Premier League titles, three Scottish FA Cup-winners medals and both the European Cup-Winners’ Cup and the European Super Cup.
But Strachan has seen the downside of football management when Coventry were relegated from the top flight for the first time in 34 years in 2001 and he was fired the following October.
“For too long, football managers have had had to take all the criticism and the blame for bad results,” he said at the time. “Is it any wonder that we make so many mistakes?”
But he bounced back with Saints and, with not much money to spend on big stars, has built a team of hardworking players who make few mistakes yet still have the talent to win big games.
“You hear so much about tactics,”' he said. “But I scratch my head and think ’What are they all on about?’
“Manchester United play the same way every week, so do Arsenal and Liverpool. All that changes is the players in the system.
“Football is down to players, not systems, and there’s nothing magical out there in the way of tactical systems. It’s simple: the best teams have the best players.”
Wenger has noted the good work done by Strachan at St Mary’s.
“He has done a great job,” the Frenchman said. “They are in Europe and have performed consistently in the championship this year. For me, a consistent level of performance is always a sign of the quality of the work being done.” – AP