Adieu Arsène: the ‘last emperor of management’

Glory days: Wenger celebrates winning the 2003-04 Premier League at White Hart Lane. © Getty

Is Arsène Wenger a true great of football? The long-serving Arsenal manager announced that he would step down at the end of the season. Supporters are divided over his legacy.

“Arsène Who?” scoffed one headline in 1996. “He looks more like a schoolteacher… Does he even speak English?” asked Arsenal captain Tony Adams.

Those questions have now been emphatically answered. After 22 years in charge of Arsenal, Arsène Wenger has finally announced that he will step down at the end of this season.

Although Arsenal have endured a disappointing season, tributes poured in. His eternal rival, Sir Alex Ferguson, proclaimed himself “proud to have been a rival, a colleague and a friend to such a great man”.

In his time as manager, Wenger won three league titles and seven FA Cups. One of those titles was won without losing a game. All this was done playing attractive, free-flowing football. Yet his impact on Arsenal was nothing compared with how he changed the English game.

One of the main ways he did this was by changing players’ diets. Until he arrived, English footballers lived largely on full English breakfasts and gallons of beer. Wenger, however, extolled the virtues of vegetables and protein shakes. He banned tomato ketchup. His early successes at Arsenal were partly driven by the fact that his team were fitter than their opponents.

Yet his pioneering spirit went way beyond this. Wenger was the first foreigner to win an English league title. His ability to spot genius in little-known foreign players was unrivalled, giving Arsenal a huge edge.

But like so many of history’s innovators, he was undone because everyone started to copy him. Wenger was no longer a modern experimenter. The second half of his tenure proved far less successful. He has not won the league since 2004.

For over a decade, Arsenal have been seen as a soft touch. A bitter split evolved among their fanbase, between the AKBs (Arsène knows best) and the WOB (Wenger out brigade). Every year, the latter group grew in numbers. Now, most fans believe he is right to walk away.

He stirred “exasperation but was a martyr to his values”, wrote David Hytner in The Guardian. Should we remember Wenger as one of English football’s greatest figures?

Wengerball

Of course we should, say some. His longevity makes him the “last emperor of management”, in the words of Henry Winter in The Times. Wenger made English football more graceful, more international and more fun. His teams will be remembered forever, and he will get the royal send-off he deserves.

You cannot ignore those final years, reply others. By the end, Wenger had become a joke, his virtues all recalled in the past tense. Like many managers, he was great for a short period of time, but he could not sustain success like Sir Alex Ferguson or Brian Clough. Wenger’s inability to let go at the right time cost him his reputation.

You Decide

  1. Should Arsène Wenger be remembered as a legend of English football?
  2. Managerial reigns are becoming shorter and shorter: Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are an Arsenal fan. Write a letter to Wenger explaining your view of his decision to resign.
  2. Write a short story with the title “Walking Away”.

Some People Say...

“I believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art.”

Arsène Wenger

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Arsène Wenger will step down as Arsenal’s manager at the end of this season. In his 22 year-stint at the club, he has managed an astonishing 1,228 matches, winning 704. We know that Wenger’s Arsenal tenure can roughly be divided between a stunningly successful first half, and a frustrating second half.
What do we not know?
Who will replace Arsène Wenger. Bookies have made Luis Enrique, the former Barcelona manager, the current favourite in a very open field. Also on the list is former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, as well as ex-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. We also do not know whether Arsenal will experience the same difficulties in their post-Wenger years as Manchester United have since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

Word Watch

22 years
Wenger is by far the longest-serving manager in the Premier League. Second in the list is Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, a possible candidate to replace Wenger, who has been in his current job for five and a half years.
End of this season
His final domestic game will be an away game against Huddersfield Town on May 13.
Disappointing season
Arsenal are sixth and are likely to record their lowest points tally in the Wenger era. However they could still redeem their season by winning the UEFA Europa League.
Three league titles and seven FA Cups
A black mark against Wenger has always been his record in European competitions. Arsenal reached their only Champions League final in 2006, but lost 2-1 to Barcelona.
Diets
Wenger was inspired by diets in Japan, where he managed Nagoya Grampus Eight before coming to Arsenal.
Brian Clough
Clough won league titles with two medium-sized regional teams in Derby County and Nottingham Forest in the 1970s. He also won the European Cup (the precursor to the Champions League) in consecutive years with Forest.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.