Where EVERY current Premier League manager was upon Arsene Wenger's arrival in 1996
Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal began, some statisticians say, a bloody long time ago. October 1, 1996, in fact. When Wenger left Japan’s Nagoya Grampus Eight to start at Highbury, John Major was Prime Minister, Wannabe was in the Top 10 and Peter Shilton was still playing league football.
This summer, after nearly 22 years of breathtaking highs (two Double-winning teams, the Invincibles, a Champions League final) and fan-enraging lows (everything that’s happened since then, outside of the FA Cup), Wenger hangs up his shoplifters’ trenchcoat to let somebody else have a go at managing Arsenal.
Candidates for the Gunners’ hot seat have certainly changed in the intervening period. In 1996, before Wenger’s appointment, Johan Cruyff was tipped to swap the Barcelona dugout for Arsenal’s; today, the frontrunners include Julian Nagelsmann, who wasn’t born when Cruyff started managing the Blaugrana.
And what were Wenger’s current contemporaries in the Premier League doing at the time he arrived in England? This being the Premier League, we’re talking about an, uh, ‘experienced’ collection of managers, so unlike many of their Bundesliga counterparts, they were at least old enough to buy a round in October 1996. That even goes for the youngest of the lot...
Eddie Howe (18)
It’s oddly comforting to know that the Bournemouth manager’s features have barely changed since he was playing there, even as a mere child in his second season.
There’s just one key difference today, and it’s not that a 40-year-old Howe has taken his boyhood club to three promotions and the top half of the Premier League. Nope – it’s the tragic lack of curtains. Bring those back, Eddie, now.
Chris Hughton (37)
The silver fox turns 60 this year, so in 1996 he was no spring chicken. His coaching career was in its infancy, however. In 1993, Hughton gave up life as a full-back and began working with the under-21s at Tottenham, where he’d made nearly 400 appearances, and Tottenham is where he’d remain for another decade-and-a-half, coaching the kids, managing the reserves or standing on the touchline next to a succession of incompetent managers (see picture).
Though Hughton’s entrance into senior management came late, he's more made up for lost time by taking Brighton to their first top-flight season since 1983, when Hughton himself was only a nipper aged… 24? Really? That can’t be right.
Sean Dyche (25)
Dyche was having a season to remember in 1996/97, captaining third-tier Chesterfield to an FA Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough and then scoring a penalty to give the Spireites a 2-0 lead. With the help of a wrongly disallowed Chesterfield goal, Boro came back to draw 3-3 and win the replay, giving a certain gravel-voiced defender an origin story for his upcoming biopic, Dyche: The Worm Has Turned.
Motivated by that memory, or perhaps just very good at managing, Dyche has since earned promotion twice with Burnley and is on the cusp of taking them into Europe – which, seeing as two-thirds of the town voted for Brexit, they’ll probably hate.
Antonio Conte (27)
From winning the Champions League as a Juventus player in 1996 to winning the Premier League as Chelsea manager in 2017, Conte found a way to weave together passion and perception like a surgeon expertly performing a hair transplant.
Roy Hodgson (49)
The Croydon-born Crystal Palace gaffer is leading a remarkable survival bid at his local club. But then, he’s been underestimated throughout his career, from guiding Switzerland to their first World Cup in 30 years, to masterminding a four-goal comeback against Juventus on Fulham’s 18-game journey to 2010’s Europa League final.
In 1996, Hodgson was in his eighth managerial role, halfway through a two-year spell with Italian giants Inter – where he sold Roberto Carlos to Real Madrid and seemingly auditioned for Line of Duty.
Sam Allardyce (41)
Wenger’s start date of October 1, 1996 coincided with a 41-year-old Allardyce doing… not a lot, actually. The ex-defender was ‘between jobs’, as the unemployed put it, having been sacked by Blackpool owner Owen Oyston from his prison cell (Oyston’s, not Allardyce’s).
In January 1997, Notts County pressed the Big Sam button, but he couldn’t prevent relegation to the fourth tier because, in his words, “the players would not respond” to his methods. This must be where Allardyce, now in his biggest ever club role with Everton, got the idea he’s “more suited” to managing Real Madrid.
David Wagner (24)
The future Huddersfield boss spent the 1996/97 season winning the UEFA Cup as a Schalke player, while making his debut for the USA and prompting mothers across Germany and the States to ask why their daughters can’t bring home a nice young man like him.
Claude Puel (35)
Puel played under Wenger for seven of his 20 years in a Monaco shirt before retiring in 1996, not long after Wenger’s enforced departure. He took on the role himself a few years later and won the French title in his first full season in management, 1999/2000.
Since then, Puel has had some success in France with Lille, Lyon and Nice, and some games in England with Southampton and Leicester. However, while Wenger’s championship win with Monaco in 1988 was the first of 21 pieces of silverware collected in his managerial career, Puel’s was the first of two.
Jurgen Klopp (29)
More accurately, Jurgen Norbert Klopp was playing football for Mainz, where he’d later make his name as a coach. In 1996, he’d just moved from attack to defence, like a German Dion Dublin. Dion Berlin? No? OK.
Pep Guardiola (25)
In the six years between leaving Barcelona as a player and returning as a youth coach, Guardiola embarked on a mission of self-discovery and footballing enlightenment, winding down his playing career in Italy, Qatar and Mexico. Admittedly, we’re not sure what there was to discover in Qatar.
In 1996, though, long before he was transforming management in much the way Wenger did, Guardiola was but a humble holding midfielder in a team featuring Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Sergio Busquets’s dad and fellow future managers Luis Enrique, Julen Lopetegui and Laurent Blanc. And he had hair – a surprisingly thick mop of hair, in fact. Maybe Antonio Conte stole it.
Jose Mourinho (33)
You know who else was at Barcelona at that time? Robert Prosinecki. But also Jose Mourinho, the protégé of Barça manager Bobby Robson. Having begun as Robson’s translator, Mourinho was beginning to have a greater influence on the team – not least because he’d embellish translations with his own opinions.
When Robson left Barcelona after just one season, Mourinho stayed on as assistant to Louis van Gaal. In 2000, he entered management and then disappeared from football altogether, never to be seen again.