One ‘un­known’ French­man changed English foot­ball, writes

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FOOTBALL - Rob­bie Slater

IREMEMBER hav­ing a quiet chuckle when the head­line “Arsene Who?” greeted Arsene Wenger’s ap­point­ment as Arse­nal man­ager in 1996. I was play­ing for West Ham in the English Pre­mier League at a time when there were so few for­eign play­ers in Eng­land.

There cer­tainly hadn’t been a French man­ager there be­fore. It was such an English cul­ture and any­thing

out­side of Eng­land wasn’t re­ally known.

But I knew all about Wenger from my time with Lens in France while he was coach­ing at Monaco. In fact, I had a per­sonal con­nec­tion with him.

In 1992 I met Wenger for lunch with my agent and he tried to sign me to Monaco from Lens. I was ob­vi­ously very im­pressed with him; he had an aura about him and was a real gen­tle­man. We had a great dis­cus­sion about what he was do­ing at Monaco and where he saw me fit­ting in.

They were a very suc­cess­ful team full of stars, like Ge­orge Weah, Em­manuel Petit and Jur­gen Klins­mann. Wenger at­tracted the big­gest names to Monaco dur­ing what was a golden era for French foot­ball, with Mar­seille and Monaco very prom­i­nent in Europe.

In hind­sight I prob­a­bly should have gone there, but in the end sen­ti­ment won out and I re-signed at Lens, so it never hap­pened.

When­ever I came across Wenger later on in Eng­land I al­ways made sure I sought him out to say hello and shake hands.

He changed the way English foot­ball was played. Though Arse­nal had en­joyed suc­cess be­fore Wenger’s ar­rival, they

were la­belled “bor­ing, bor­ing Arse­nal” and the fa­mous chant was “1-0 to the Arse­nal”. Lit­tle did ev­ery­one know Wenger was about to change all of that.

Un­der him they be­came known as one of the most at­trac­tive sides to watch, not only in Eng­land, but in Europe. In his first decade with Arse­nal he had enor­mous suc­cess with that style of play and the play­ers he brought in re­ally did change English foot­ball.

The likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Petit had never been seen in Eng­land be­fore. Vieira and Petit were prob­a­bly the most dy­namic and tal­ented mid­field pair­ing the Pre­mier League had ever seen.

Then he put to­gether the In­vin­ci­bles, the team that went through the en­tire 2003/04 sea­son un­de­feated.

Play­ing against Arse­nal was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. The one thing that Wenger brought to his teams, which is still ap­par­ent to­day, is

that ev­ery player is un­be­liev­ably quick and tech­ni­cally gifted. When you played Arse­nal it was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult be­cause of the pace they played at and it was tough to get the ball off them be­cause ev­ery player in ev­ery po­si­tion was tech­ni­cally gifted.

But he was adapt­able too. When he first ar­rived he was very re­spect­ful of the team that was al­ready there.

Tony Adams, for ex­am­ple, was prob­a­bly not a Wenger-style player, but he played un­til the end of his ca­reer un­der Wenger.

Wenger’s legacy, like Sir Alex Fer­gu­son’s at Manch­ester United, will be long last­ing. Both men are unique in that it’s hard to imag­ine how their decades­long reign in such a cut­throat busi­ness is ever go­ing to hap­pen again.

Even though it’s taken longer than some fans would have liked for Wenger to step down, you can’t imag­ine any Arse­nal sup­porter not be­ing af­fected by his de­par­ture.

Arse­nal boss Arsene Wenger will quit the club at the end of the cur­rent sea­son and (right) sign­ing Thierry Henry. Pic­tures: AFP How Wenger’s ar­rival at Arse­nal was greeted in 1996.

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