6 things everyone will miss about Arsene Wenger
1. The lexicon of football
When Wenger took over at Highbury in 1996, English football was firmly rooted in lads' mags land. Indeed, three of his Arsenal stars - Tony Adams, Paul Merson and Ray Parlour - were as likely to make front-page headlines as back-page ones, amid bar-room banter about boozy nights out, fire extinguisher fights in Pizza Hut and dentist chairs.
The language surrounding football was boorish and agricultural, and the English game appeared - in Jonathan Wilson's words - "destined to remain anti-intellectual for eternity".
Wenger - the multi-linguist and Economics graduate - immediately changed the lexicon of football, and was keen to discuss how multiculturalism, psychology and the chaos theory were intrinsically linked to football. Then there was the rationale behind changing players’ diets and training routines, which Wenger was happy to discuss at length. In more recent press conferences, Wenger has pondered the knotty issues of Brexit, and lamented the decline of street football ("You have to fight to win impossible balls. When it's all a bit more formulated then it's less about developing your individual skill; your fighting attitude. We've lost that a little bit in football").
Wenger's rich blend of metaphors, humour and razor-sharp social analysis will be sorely missed. As football writer Miguel Delaney recently wrote: "If you asked him a proper football question, you got a proper football answer – and usually a whole lot more."
2. The patriarch
After 22 seasons in charge in N5, Wenger stands accused of having gained far too much power and influence in all areas of the club. Yet what has often been overlooked is that Wenger’s long reign has enabled him to adopt a fatherly approach to nurturing young talent through some difficult formative years. Take Patrick Vieira for instance, parachuted into English football as a 20-year-old after a less-than-successful spell with Milan.
“Arsene nurtured me and helped me adjust to an alien football culture,” Vieira reflected in 2006. “Those early months, when you’re getting used to the sights, the sounds and the smells of the English game, can be challenging, and I’ll always be grateful to the boss for helping me navigate my way through.”
A raft of other stars who glittered under Wenger, including Gilberto Silva, Robin van Persie and Kanu, have praised Wenger for his multicultural and meritocratic approach to the game (“I pick a player on account of their ability, not their passport”), and his mentoring skills. Others, including Emmanuel Petit, Alex Hleb and Nicolas Anelka, have expressed regret that they didn’t stay at Arsenal longer, and that they missed Wenger’s patriarchal approach to his players.
Tony Adams, despite criticising Wenger as a coach in his recent autobiography, remains forever in his debt: Wenger helped him through his rehabilitation after admitting he was an alcoholic, and gave Adams the confidence to morph into a ball playing centre-half. “He gave me a sense of freedom, in every way possible,” Adams has said.
Wenger may have indulged under-achieving stars such as Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner for too long (Patrick Vieira argues: “His loyalty to his players is both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness”) – but without his caring approach in these last 21 years, Arsenal fans would never have seen such fantastic football for much of Wenger’s tenure. The Frenchman's mere presence at Arsenal gave the club a sense of security, and his band of players a level of stability which has been unique to the club.
Yes, Wenger earns somewhere in the region of £8 million per year, and no, he’s certainly not a servant to the club in any shape or form. But Arsenal fans should remain eternally grateful to him for helping the club navigate through choppy financial waters in the years after Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea.
From 2005 to 2012, Wenger had to sell a raft of players – including, and certainly not exclusive to Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor – just to make ends meet as Arsenal stumped up for the costly Emirates Stadium. All of that came in the face of loudly moneyed rivals Chelsea and Manchester City jacking up transfer fees and wages with their oil money.
Without fail (until this season, anyway), Wenger still delivered Champions League football each season, and his teams continued to play vibrant, incisive football. If he did complain about football’s new money, it tended to be nuanced and from an ethical standpoint. For instance, when Chelsea flop Andriy Shevchenko was rumoured to be departing Stamford Bridge, Wenger lamented: “Chelsea can write off £30 million in the blink of an eye and not give it a second thought. How can that be right? No other club is in that position.”
But despite opportunities to depart and manage both Real Madrid and PSG, Wenger stayed loyal to the cause. Arsenal fans may dismiss the 2006-13 seasons as fallow years in terms of trophies, but one day, when that period is viewed objectively, the vast majority of them will thank Wenger for staying put.