WENGER IS A TRUE REVOLUTIONARY
Arsene is celebrating 20 years since he was unveiled as Arsenal boss
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.