By Reece Chambers
All good things must come to an end and it was recently announced that the ever glorious and dignified Arsène Wenger will vacate his managerial position at the end of the current season. His 22-year reign had its ups and downs, but the Frenchman should be remembered with great fondness.
It’s been a matter of when not if for a number of years now, but Arsène Wenger’s imminent departure from North London was still met with great surprise. For a manager who has ruled one of the world’s biggest football clubs for over two decades, it is hard to imagine such a reign coming to an end.
Even if Wenger isn’t positioned in the Arsenal technical area sporting his famous long-lined winter coat anymore, his legacy will live on for many years to come.
In the summer of 1996, Arsène Wenger was given his chance in English football. As an unknown manager on the British shores, Wenger moved from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight in what was a rather left-wing appointment. Little did anyone in north London, or anyone in world football for that matter, know that Wenger would go on to manage 1,236 matches in the Arsenal dugout in what would become one of the most iconic managerial reigns of modern football.
As an unknown manager in British football, Wenger had very little to lose in taking the job. But very few would have predicted what was to unfold. 22 seasons, 17 trophies and over one thousand matches later, Wenger deserves an almighty farewell that matches his devotion and commitment to Arsenal Football Club.
The 68-year-old’s reign does not just signify the end of a terrific managerial feat, it more significantly symbolizes the end of long-term managerial appointments in football. The proliferation of short-termism in football has perhaps now been set in full motion by the departure of Wenger, as well as the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson not so long ago.
Anyone who argues that the reign of Arsène Wenger has been something short of amazing deserves a trip back through the history of his Arsenal career.
The Frenchman was one of the first managers in English football to fully educate players on nutrition. In what was a drastic, and somewhat controversial, change to footballing culture at the top level, Wenger pioneered the way forward for how football is today.
Furthermore, an increase in performance analysis allowed football to reach a new level again. With a clear aim to revolutionize English football, Wenger was one of the first managers to become obsessed with every minute detail of his players.
Today, it could be easy to forget the long-lasting impact Wenger has had on British football. Both on and off the pitch, an obsessive Wenger has helped transform the way football is viewed today and we, as football fans, should be forever grateful for what he has done.
Such obsession from Wenger and his coaching staff proved worthwhile in the 2003/04 season when the north London club became the only side, past or present, to go an entire season unbeaten in the Premier League.
Wenger had built an invincible side with the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira dominating matches. A side with such elegance and class somewhat embodied Wenger’s aura and that season proved to be the best in his 22-year tenure.
The Invincible season was going to be a hard act to follow and, despite a near Champions League victory in 2006, the Frenchman watched on as his arch enemies Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho dominated English football with two of Arsenal’s fiercest rivals.
Several FA Cup wins in recent years leaves Arsène Wenger as the record-holder for FA Cup trophies as a manager but the Arsenal fans are a demanding bunch. Mediocracy in the league as well as underwhelming Champions League campaigns have left fans wanting change.
Arsenal fan TV has proved a useful mechanism in an attempt to usurp Wenger from his throne at the Emirates. Social media coverage has exacerbated Wenger’s failures to a level beyond the true issues at the club.
However, Wenger has remained classy, calm and collected even in the greatest times of meltdown and that is the measure of the man. When everyone appears to be jumping off the sinking ship, Wenger has been dignified in his ideals and tried his utmost to change the club’s fortunes around.
A miraculous turnaround was not to be for Wenger. But, with everything he has done for Arsenal Football Club and English football as a whole, he deserves the best farewell possible.
In his final game at Old Trafford last week, Wenger was greeted by his greatest rivals in Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho who showed him tremendous respect. A respectful reception from the Manchester United fans, too, signifies just how appreciated Wenger is within the game of football.
Wenger and Ferguson have locked horns on many occasions in the past – Keown vs van Nistelrooy and Vieira vs Keane spring to mind – and for the United faithful to show so much respect to Wenger emphasises how much of an incredible managerial career the Frenchman has had at Arsenal.
At the age of 68, there’s nothing more Wenger deserves now than a glass of fine French wine with his feet up.
Rest assured, Wenger will be back at the Emirates for every home game. But, in an environment where he can be solely remembered as one of football’s managerial Gods.