What did George Graham ever do for Arsene Wenger? Here's what...
2) He was active in helping them become a financial superpower
When Graham took the reins at Arsenal in 1986, the club was mired in debt to the tune of around £200,000. Within a year, thanks to Littlewoods and FA Cup runs, rising crowds at Highbury and Graham’s ruthless selling policy (jaded England strikers Tony Woodcock and Paul Mariner were sold, and the injury-prone Stewart Robson offloaded to West Ham), the club made a £1 million profit.
Graham’s preference for relying on youth team products and cheap imports (his first signing was Colchester’s Perry Groves for the princely sum of £75,000) meant that Arsenal remained in the black.
On the back of Arsenal’s league triumphs, vice-chairman David Dein was able begin modernising Highbury – adding the corporate boxes to the Clock End by late 1988, and announcing the opening of the Arsenal World Of Sport next to Finsbury Park tube station.
By the time he departed, Arsenal was a slick money-making organisation with an annual turnover of £20m. Graham’s appetite for signing top players may have faded by then, but as he points out: “The success Arsenal enjoyed under me helped bring huge profits to the club, added to an already-large fanbase, and meant there was now an infrastructure and commercial side which didn’t exist even five years before. It was all there for another manager to exploit. It turned out to be Wenger.”
Ironically, Wenger first appeared on Dein’s radar during a visit to London to watch Graham’s Arsenal. In the late ‘80s, the then-up-and-coming Monaco coach got lost in the maze of tunnels under Highbury, ended up in the ladies lounge and was redirected to the gentlemen’s lounge by none other than Barbara Dein, the vice-chairman’s wife. Dein and Wenger struck up an immediate rapport, with the former telling Alex Fynn – author of Arsenal: The Making Of A Modern Superclub, that he regarded Wenger as “one for the future”.
Wenger’s arrival at Highbury was some years off, but the Frenchman later admitted: “I used to watch Arsenal because I felt I could learn much from how he [Graham] organised his team tactically. I wasn’t the only young European coach to think that way.”
Graham’s disgrace after the bungs scandal was very much to Wenger’s advantage. Previously, Dein had always granted Graham a great deal of latitude (“I always told David that I preferred to work alone,” the Scot remarked) when it came to negotiating transfer deals.
Yet by the time Wenger arrived in 1996, the laissez faire era – which had seen Arsenal miss out on several transfer targets in Graham's latter days – was over. It was abundantly clear that Arsenal managers would now liaise closely with Dein over transfers, and it was the vice-chairman who was instrumental in bringing the likes of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry to Highbury – after Wenger’s initial recommendations.