In 1996 Arsenal Football Club announced the arrival of a new manager from the Japanese League. He would go on to revolutionise English football, both on and off the pitch, in ways that no manager had done. His name of course was Arsene Wenger. However after 20 years of management and the dwindling memories of his success, it may just be the time to say goodbye.
Few remember the profound impact Arsene Wenger had on his arrival to Arsenal. He was shocked by the unprofessional nature of both players and management, determined to change the culture of football. He replaced the usual heavy alcohol infused lunches with lean meats and vegetables, smoking was banned, new training programmes were introduced to improve fitness such as plyometric training and supplements were trialled with great success. It didn’t take long before other clubs followed suit. Wenger was also critical of the lack of international presence in the league. He invested in the best scouts to travel the world and find the next Maradona wherever he may come from. It culminated in Arsenal becoming the first club to field an all-foreign team and set a trend in the transfer market that all clubs follow even today. Arsenal remain a leading club in promoting young talent. His intellectual and professional approach to the game earned him the title ‘Le Professeur’.
On the pitch Wenger also demonstrated a prowess that shook the footballing establishment. In his first full season he won the Premier League and FA Cup with the team being described as “a model of racial and multicultural integration. They were the first truly globalised team”. He would go on to achieve more success with three Premier League titles, six FA Cups and six FA Community Shields. His greatest achievement will be ‘The Invincibles’ team of 2003/2004 which remains the most dominating team English football has ever seen. It embodied Wengers approach to football until that point; pace, power, enduring fitness and brutal efficiency.
“On the pitch Arsenal look disjointed, lacking tactical vision and leadership.”
However the story from 2005 till now is incredibly different. In the last 12 years Arsenal have won only two FA Cups and two Community Shields. It’s a return that would have led to any other manager being dismissed. On the pitch Arsenal look disjointed, lacking tactical vision and leadership. The much spoken approach of ‘go and express yourself’ invariably fails against the shrewdness of modern day managers. Off the pitch his professorial approach is failing. His teams are plagued with injuries so often that it cannot be down to bad luck. A lack of investment has angered both players and fans, especially given the two billionaires who own the club. This season has hit an all time low. With missing out on the top four a real risk and the reported coup amongst players against the manager, fans have become more vocal in their criticism. It began with ‘all good things have to come to an end’ but increasingly the chants have become a much blunter ‘Wenger out’.
For as much as Wenger has given to Arsenal, remember what Arsenal have given him. To take a chance on a Japanese League manager, give him 20 years at the club despite failures and remunerate him so well in the process means Arsenal no longer ‘owe’ anything to Wenger. The Dark Night prophetically noted how ‘you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villian’. Le Professeur was once the future, now its time for someone new. If he leaves this season, perhaps people remember the great he was rather than the sorry state he has become.
Written by Nima Amin