Arsene is cel­e­brat­ing 20 years since he was un­veiled as Ar­se­nal boss

The Star (Kenya) - - Sports - BY JOE BERN­STEIN Takes a look at the man who has changed English foot­ball

W hen Ar­se­nal sacked Bruce Rioch in the sum­mer of 1996, the first name on ev­ery­one’s lips as the po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor was the leg­endary Jo­han Cruyff.

It proved a non-starter, Cruyff didn’t want a man­ager’s job at the time and in any case Ar­se­nal’s most in­flu­en­tial di­rec­tor David Dein had set his eyes on a largely un­known French­man who was work­ing in Ja­pan, Arsene Wenger.

The re­ac­tion when news fi­nally leaked that Wenger would be given the keys to one of Eng­land’s great tra­di­tional foot­ball club was as­ton­ish­ment. “Arsene Who?” was the gen­eral re­ac­tion. Lit­tle did they know the club were ap­point­ing the most in­flu­en­tial coach and man­ager the world has seen since Cruyff him­self.

He has not won the amount of tro­phies that Sir Alex Ferguson col­lected or the Euro­pean tri­umphs of a Jose Mour­inho, Pep Guardi­ola or Carlo Ancelotti, but in 20 years he has rev­o­lu­tionised English foot­ball.

Tech­ni­cal, pass­ing, pos­ses­sion foot­ball is now the norm for teams who want to be re­garded as world con­tenders. Not when Arsene ar­rived, it was his blue­print that made it so.

Diet and fit­ness were still seen as rel­a­tively in­con­se­quen­tial com­pared to team spirit usu­ally fos­tered by mam­moth booz­ing ses­sions.

Wenger came in, banned Mars Bars, gave his play­ers sup­ple­ments and watched the vic­to­ries and tro­phies roll in.

Pre-Wenger, there was scep­ti­cism that for­eign man­agers would be able to “get” English foot­ball let alone for­eign young­sters who were brought up by pass­ing the ball rather than run­ning up and down sand dunes at Black­pool beach to aid fit­ness.

Ni­co­las Anelka, Pa­trick Vieira and later Cesc Fabre­gas came, saw and con­quered. Again, ev­ery big club acad­emy scouts the world for tal­ent th­ese days.

Of course, that pol­icy has its draw­backs, par­tic­u­larly for young lo­cal play­ers but none­the­less Wenger was a pioneer.

Manch­ester United had the ad­van­tage of be­ing a gen­uine global phe­nom­e­non with sup­port­ers in all four cor­ners of the planet. Manch­ester City and Chelsea have had the ad­van­tage of un­prece­dented fi­nan­cial sup­port.

Ar­se­nal are the only self-made mem­bers of that “Big Four”.

In the four Pre­mier League sea­sons be­fore Wenger ar­rived, Ar­se­nal fin­ished 10th, fourth, 12th and fifth. For the last three of those years, they lagged be­hind New­cas­tle United but since then they’ve not been out­side of the top four.

Crit­ics will point to the lack of tro­phies in the se­cond half of Wenger’s two decades. And they’d be right up to a point. But as suc­cess is rel­a­tive.

If Wenger is a fail­ure for al­ways fin­ish­ing in­side the top four, that’s nowhere near as big a fail­ure as other so-called big clubs. Ever­ton haven’t won a tro­phy since 1995, Liver­pool haven’t won a ti­tle since 1990 and Tot­ten­ham since the early 1960s.

Ev­ery other club - Chelsea, Manch­ester United, Liver­pool and Manch­ester City - have spent time out­side the Cham­pi­ons League.

Ar­se­nal haven’t un­der Wenger.

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