The news of imminent departure of one of the longest serving football club managers in the world, Arsene Wenger hit the global football community like a thunderbolt. It’s yet to abate. Hate him or love him, Wenger is an iconic legend with uncommon charisma, intelligence and professionalism. The outpour of goodwill, emotions, and affection across the globe since the announcement is a testimony of the impact the Frenchman has made on world football. Call him an enigma, you won’t be wrong. Yet, this is a man when he first arrived at the North London club to take up the managerial job, people were asking; “Arsene who?”
Born in October 1949 in Strasbourg, France, he is the youngest of three children of Alphonse and Louise Wenger and was introduced to football at age of six. His father was conscripted into the German army when that region of France was annexed, in case you ever wondered like me, why his German name. Arsene Wenger’s record as a player is not as intimidating as his achievements as a coach. Though his name is synonymous with Arsenal, Wenger had coaching stints with Cannes, Nancy and AS Monaco, all in France. He later moved over to Japan to take charge of affairs at Nagoya Grampus Eight FC.
Interestingly, Wenger’s arrival at Arsenal in 1996 was accidental according to the man who made it possible, David Dein, former Arsenal’s helmsman. But that gamble by Dein in bringing in an unknown figure in the world of coaching, was not only to revolutionise football in England, but in the entire world. According to Manchester City’s multiple trophy -winning manager, Pep Guardiola, “English Premier League is premier league because of what Wenger has done”.
The Frenchman replaced Bruce Rioch and took the English Premiership by storm with an average club and average players. Within the first decade of his management, Arsenal had won the premiership three times, with the envious record of going through a whole season (2003/2004), without losing a premier league game. The record is yet to be matched by any other team in the world of football.
Prior to the announcement of his departure, Wenger had managed 1127 games at Arsenal, winning 16 trophies made up of three Premiership titles, seven FA Cups, and six Community Shields.
However, the world is not celebrating Wenger because of the number of trophies he had won with Arsenal, which actually doesn’t befit his stature, but because of his influence on the round leather game globally. An economist by education, the ‘Professor’ as he is reveredly called, has given more meaning to football than winning trophies.
Specifically, he raised awareness on the impact of dieting and exercise on the performance of players. Today, managers, coaches and players have come to appreciate the role of appropriate dieting in the conditioning players before, during and after games. Again, Wenger is credited with leading globalisation in world football as he was among, if not the first foreigner to manage a football club in the United Kingdom. The other manager who arrived with him in 1996 in England was Ruud Gullit. In keeping with his philosophy of recruitment across the borders, Wenger is known to have signed players from 26 different countries.
Furthermore, the attractive style of play, which has endeared Arsenal to the hearts of football lovers across the globe, is to Wenger’s credit. Only the almighty FC Barcelona of Spain can match his team in flair, sexy, beautiful and attacking football. This has been made possible by Arsene Wenger’s other contribution to the good of the game that is; identifying young talents and grooming them to stardom. No other manager has surpassed his record in identifying and developing young talents to world-class players.
Moreover, Arsenal owners and fans will remain eternally grateful to the Frenchman for turning an average team in 1996 when he arrived to the 5th richest club in the world according to latest ranking. Wenger’s penchant for long -term values has led to the transformation of a relatively known team to the building of an empire. His legacy will surely include the movement of the club from an obscure arena at Highbury to a 60,000 capacity Emirates Stadium.
Expectedly, there will always be a change of tide in the affairs of men. Being a mortal he is, there is a time for everything. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to rejoice and a time to be sorrowful, a time to laugh and a time to weep. The only thing constant in life is change. The time for change has come at the Emirates.
Ironically, the same factors that stood Wenger out and led to his remarkable achievements, which earned him Officer of the British Empire (OBE), are the same reasons that have led to his “downfall”. In the last decade, Wenger has not been able to recreate the magic wand he brought to bear in his first 10 years at Arsenal. Arsenal has not been able to lift the Premiership title for over a decade now. Or have they won any trophy in Europe despite participating in the European Champions League for 20 consecutive seasons.
The reasons for this downturn have been led on the doorsteps of Wenger. He refused to change with the times, sticking with his young guns and conservative approach in resources management. The introduction of what he described as “petrol dollars” into world football did not help his case in anyway. Suddenly, the man whose name, style and charisma increased Arsenal’s fans base, became a killjoy in the eyes of the younger generation of supporters of the club.
As Wenger takes his exit, the question now is; who can replace and replicate what he has done with the club, especially in his early years? A lot of interesting names have come up for consideration, some of them experienced and accomplished, others not very experienced but among those who made the gunners tick in their glorious days.
The board of Arsenal is in a dilemma. Should they go the way of Barcelona which share a lot in common with them, by hiring former players or go for high profile managers from across the globe? One thing is certain. There will be consequences for whichever route the board chose. What is your take?
Till next week, keep attacking.