Arsene Wenger: 20 years at Arsenal- an incredible journey of joy and annoyance | Amy Lawrence

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How do you describe the Frenchman after two decades at Arsenal? A stubborn human? A loyal human? A romantic? A revolutionary? A relic? A survivor? The truth about this complex human is that he is all of them at the same time

When you look at Arsne Wenger what do you find? A shining light for longevity, the last of his kind supervising a period of time at one club, something that is now unique? A 66 -year-old manager who seems past it, his methods overtaken by younger, hungrier, craftier coaches? A stubborn human? A loyal human? A romantic? A revolutionary? A relic? A survivor?

It explains a great deal about him, and how he is perceived, that after an extraordinary 20 years at Arsenal, he can be all of them. Here we chronicle the seven ages of his time at the club.

Brave New World( 1996 )

Nobody, least of all the man himself, envisaged the depth of the opportunity ahead when Wenger weighed up the prospect of joining Arsenal in 1996. He gave the offer careful supposed in his apartment in Nagoya, where he was living while manager of Grampus Eight. His spell in Japan an experience that fascinated him. Far away from the madding crowd of European football, he immersed himself in a culture and in a way of life that was by its nature challenging, engaging, eye-opening, and at times lonely. The run was stimulating. But friends, family and familiarity were almost 10,000 km away.

The Arsenal opening represented a mighty leap in every style professionally, culturally, personally. I was at a dangerous point and I had to make a decision. I felt that if I didnt come back now I would remain forever in Japan, he explained. After two years you get slowly emerged into this spirit. What you miss in Europe is slowly drifting away. I was at a point where I supposed, I will induce my life here if I dont come back now. His spouse was pregnant with their daughter. Either they would induce the big move to Japan to join him and Wenger would commit to deepening his roots in Asia, or he would return to Europe. In hindsight, this was a sliding doors moment. Who knows how his subsequent decades and Arsenals would have turned out had he taken the other decision?

Half a world away in London, his friend, the then Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, awaited Wengers choice. From their first chance session in 1989, when Wenger was passing through London with some time to kill on the day of a north London derby, Dein had been wowed by this individual who struck him as completely different to the average manager. He first proposed the idea of appointing this clever, worldly Frenchman working in the J-League in 1995, merely for his fellow board members to refused it as far too risky. A foreign manager? What an audacious suggestion. There was no evidence to indicate it would work at all.

There had been only one experiment with a manager from abroad in the top flight before. Aston Villa hired Dr Josef Venglos( predictably greeted as Dr Who ?) in 1990. He arrived fresh from coaching Czechoslovakia at the World Cup, a multi-linguist who could communicate in Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and English as well as his native tongue. But a lot was lost in translation and Venglos left after one troubled season narrowly avoiding relegation. Venglos tried to introduce notions relating to what he called: The methodology of training, the analysis of nutrition, recuperation, regeneration and a physiological approach to the game. Frankly, most of those words sounded like they came from outer space to your average 1990 English dressing room.

We now live in an age when the currency movements overseas managers in the Premier League has never been higher. With the richly decorated backstories of Pep Guardiola and Jos Mourinho predominating the Manchester scene, Jrgen Klopp reigniting spirit in Liverpool, the ferociously competitive Italian Antonio Conte tasked with whipping Chelsea into shape, Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino bringing elements of the Dutch and Argentinian schools to Everton and Tottenham in the chasing pack, we are familiar with all accents, doctrines, tactical preferences, foibles.


Arsne Wenger holds up a transcript of the Gunner magazine bearing his portrait while meeting the media at Highbury. Photograph: Dave Cheskin/ PA

When Wenger arrived with his French lilt and sophisticated notions he came into an environment with a deep mistrust when it came to the possibility that a foreigner could succeed in England. If Tony Adams, Arsenals influential captain, felt unsure, then so would everybody else. There was a fear of someone else, a fear of change, Adams recollected, afterwards describing the mood succinctly as disdain before investigation. The general reaction from players, managers, advocates and media across England was pocked with suspicion.

Wenger was conscious of it. I felt quite a lot of scepticism, he said. Thats normal, especially on an island. This phenomenon is more emphasised on an island because people have historically lived more isolated. They are more cautious about foreign influences.

22 September 1996. When Wenger attained his first public appearance as Arsenals new manager, sporting a gaudy club tie and dark blazer, with a press conference at Highbury to formally introduce himself before properly starting work on 1 October , nobody knew quite what to expect. The only other foreign coach-and-four working in England had only just been promoted Ruud Gullit took over from Glenn Hoddle to become Chelseas player-manager during the summer. After Dr Who? went Arsne Who? Unlike Gullit, who had a global reputation and was already a familiar face in Premier League football when he was appointed to the Stamford Bridge dugout, Wenger was a virtual unknown.

Have a look at the listing of managers who began the 1996 -9 7 Premier League season 😛 TAGEND

Brian Little( Aston Villa ), Ray Harford( Blackburn ), Gullit( Chelsea ), Ron Atkinson( Coventry ), Jim Smith( Derby ), Joe Royle( Everton ), George Graham( Leeds United ), Martin ONeill( Leicester) Roy Evans( Liverpool ), Alex Ferguson( Manchester United ), Bryan Robson( Middlesbrough ), Kevin Keegan( Newcastle ), Frank Clark( Nottingham Forest ), David Pleat( Sheffield Wednesday ), Graeme Souness( Southampton ), Peter Reid( Sunderland ), Gerry Francis( Tottenham ), Harry Redknapp( West Ham ), Joe Kinnear( Wimbledon ).

Old school, to say the least. Not the platform for the most open or warm of welcomes.


Pass With Flying Colours( 1996 -1 998 )

It was Patrick Vieira who started the ball rolled. This rangy and athletic young midfielder another Frenchman few in England knew anything about was signed all of a sudden from Milan and represented a kind of advanced party before Wenger was freed from his commitments in Japan to start work with Arsenal. Actually it was more of an advanced present. Vieira attained his debut midway through the first half of a modest performance against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury under the caretaker control of Pat Rice. He went on and it was a shining lightbulb moment. Dennis Bergkamp, who was injured and watching from the sidelines, felt the crackling energy sweeping through dear old Highbury. When he came here on he changed video games. He wholly changed video games! the Dutchman remembers. And I think everyone in the stadium was reasoning, What happened here? Did I actually see it right?

Having been pedestrian and workmanlike in midfield for a few years it certainly wasnt the teams most refined department Vieiras appearance made a vital impression. He represented something fresh and different. As Wenger said: He is the man who gave me the first credibility. It was a shock to people. He was like a genie from the lamp.

Although life at Arsenal was about to change radically, Wenger did not want to be too judgmental or impose too much of a revolution without taking his time to look around and assess everybody.

1 October 1996. Wengers first official day at work was expended at the training ground. Over the next 2 seasons he would introduce a range of new ideas. Some were based on science everything from deterring chocolate bars on the team coach-and-four, rewriting dietary habits and liquid uptake( not only what you consume and drank but how you took it on board) and introducing stretching regimes and fitness specialists. Some were based on style of play, and short to-the-point training sessions designed to create the template for football that was both powerful and expressive. A knack for signing perfect players to fit the new jigsaw helped. In went quality of the calibre of Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka, whose pace frightened the life out of opponent defenders, and Emmanuel Petit, whose defensive instincts and long pass attained him the ideal midfield foil for Vieira. All these ingredients whirled together to create a winning blend.


Tony Adams celebrates scoring a stunning volley in Arsenals 4-0 win over Everton to seal the 1997 -9 8 title. Photograph: Daily Mail/ Rex/ Shutterstock

For Bergkamp, the arrival of Wenger built a bridge between the football of his past, his education in the Dutch ideals of total football, and the never-say-die English football attitudes that were embodied by Arsenals steely back four. There was a kind of symbiosis. Consider how Bergkamp assimilated the toughness which helped him to electrify the Premier League, or how Adams had the freedom to burst on to a chipped pass from Steve Bould to score with an impeccable volley.

It all came together beautifully in Wengers first full season as Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup double. There was something virtually serene about how his squad glided towards the honours at the end of the season. Wenger is acutely aware of the manifold complications football throws up, but just sometimes, and the finale to the 1997 -9 8 double was one of those hours, he has been able to experience the rare light that transcends all the pressures. Of course. It happens when you feel your squad is a really happy division playing video games and enjoying it. Not distracted by any selfishness or any nervousnes about research results. Its like you lead 3-0, everybody is up behind the team, they express themselves, they still respect video games. Thats it. It sometimes lasts three, two, or one minute. Its so short, but you would combat forever to experience that again.

The Wonder Years( 1998 -2 006 )

Wengers first decade yielded convincing, regular success. It was not without its towering letdowns. In between the doubles of 1998 and 2002 were three frustrating seasons of being close but not winning. They were league runners-up each season behind domestic challengers Manchester United, and also lost a bunch of painful semi-finals and finals. The rivalry with Alex Fergusons squad was intense and compelling.

But overall, over the period between 1996 and 2006, Arsenal won the Premier League three times, FA Cup four times, reached the Champions League final for the first time in their history and went through the 2003 -0 4 league campaign undefeated. It was an epoch to bear comparison with the predominance masterminded by Herbert Chapman in the 1930 s.

A decade of high achievement is what the subsequent Wenger years are unavoidably measured against. Recall of that time is important not only for the substance but also the aesthetic style. A squad that had Thierry Henry in his prime resulting the charge, with the artistry espoused by Bergkamp, Robert Pirs, Freddie Ljungberg, Vieira, Kanu and company buzzing around the pitching( not to forget a toughened defense that took every goal confessed as an affront ), won many admirers.


Although he is not a human who naturally enjoys looking back, making history with the Invincibles, the team that didnt lose a single league game, is a highlight that meant a great deal to him personally. It was one of my dreamings , he said. I learned that you can achieve things that you think are not achievable.

Wengers hour at Arsenal has coincided with the globalisation of the game, and creating an imprint, an identity one that was in opposition to the Boring Arsenal tag they had carried for years is something he is softly proud of. Sometimes when I speak to foreign coaches and ask about a player and they say, This is not an Arsenal player this is the biggest compliment you can get, Wenger said.


Arsenals Invincibles celebrate winning the title in May 2004, having gone through the season unbeaten. Photograph: Clive Mason/ Getty Images

Of course, in the process of 20 years not every transfer ended up in that this-is-an-Arsenal-player bracket. On the one hand Sol Campbell, on the other Igors Stepanovs. One hand Robin van Persie, the other Francis Jeffers. But Wenger get more than enough right in that opening decade to be brilliantly successful. It was a heck of a benchmark to live up to.

Men Against Boys( 2006 -2 013 )

Coincidentally or not, in splitting the Wenger years into two contrasting halves, the mid-point is the significant moment Arsenal relocated. Wenger loved Highbury. Even now, sometimes, this human who does not easily give in to the sentimental makes a diversion when he is driving to or from the Emirates and stops outside the old East Stand facade on Avenell Road to remember.

But moving always felt, to him, imperative for the club is to promote. Having revolutionised the training facilities first of all by planning for a modern headquarters to be built( he went every day to the site at London Colney to check on the progress and is particularly fond of the fact they planted 280,500 trees ), the complex question of Highburys small capacity necessitated considerable thought.

When Arsenal decided to leave their ancestral home and prepare for a move that would in the end cost around 400 m, Wenger knew and is cognizant of the fact that for a hour it would compromise his squad. What he did not know was that all Arsenals schemes would be thrown by the impact of oligarchs and billionaires landing abruptly to transform the football scenery. Arsenals belt-tightening coincided with lavish spending elsewhere. You feel like you have stones against machine guns, Wenger said. People dont want to know that. They only want you to win the championship. That period turned out to be more challenging than the club ever anticipated.

Wengers plan to sail the choppy water with a modestly priced boat compared to the Premier Leagues financial powerhouses was to pin his religion on youth. The notion was brave: find the best young players you can, inculcate them with some club spirit, and develop a squad that grows together and feels allegiance to each other and the cause.

It nearly worked. Cesc Fbregas in his youth was sensational. In the group that included Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby, Wenger was sure he had enough talent to compete.


But project youth disintegrated. It was perhaps the lowest blow for Wenger. The damage when Fbregas and Nasri left, followed by Van Persie, was felt keenly. Wenger felt a very personal sense of loss. The ideology he believed in collapsed around him. Only before the river of high-profile departures, while he fought to stem the tide, he admitted that the message it would send if they left was too great. You cannot feign you are a big club, he said.

It was hard to take, particularly for someone who likes to manage with a strong emphasis on the human side of his players. Although it hurt, and other managers may well have been more ruthless in blocking moves, rightly or incorrectly Wenger always tried to recognise that if a player wanted to go, it was time to let them go.


Arsne Wenger sought to rebuild around children such as Cesc Fbregas, pictured here in 2004. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/ Arsenal FC via Getty Images

The vulnerabilities in his squad during these moments attained it so tough to compete with the best around. The soft centre, the free-form style that on a bad day fell foul of well-organised foes, the one or two elite players short they are generally found themselves. Wenger the brunt of all the problems.

A Second Coming( 2014 -1 5 )

How is your glass half-full or half- empty? Depending on your perspective, the difficult, trophyless years elicited mockery and despise or a quiet respect for the bigger painting. Several hours during the course of its Arsenal tenure Wenger could have left for other clubs. He never did. He bided put, earning a handsome salary but also absorbing the flak. Why? Because he believes in an idea that is about more than honours for the CV. He started the project to see Arsenal over their expensive move, and he wanted to finish it. Whether he will or not is a question that frequently causes ripplings in the fanbase. Is he the man to take the club back to the position they were in during the first decade of Wengerian Arsenal? Can he ever get them back to title-winning criteria? There have been occasional close attempts, but no bullseye.

After winning the FA Cup in 2005, the last honour of part 1 of his tenure, Wenger suffered moments of immense pressure and blamed. The 8-2 defeat at Manchester United in August 2011 was deeply humiliating. There were a cluster of those calamities in recent seasons, piercingly bad defeats that allowed Mourinho to deliver that cutting expert in failure line.

The immense importance of football is sometimes scary, Wenger said in his early days at Arsenal, acknowledging how it can be overwhelming to carry the burden of expectancy for a big club. When you dont win you are responsible for so many unhappy people. Sometimes its better not to be considered it because it could damage your life too much.


Arsne Wenger looks on during Arsenals 8-2 defeat by Manchester United in August 2011. Photograph: John Peters/ Man Utd via Getty Images

Its the only style to survive. I dont go out at all. I stay at home and try to do my best for the club. But of course in bad moments, when you play away and you lose and you see after the game all those fans who travelled for 500 miles or 1,000 miles in Europe, and spend a lot of money, you feel that atmosphere. There is a strange vibration in the street when you lose at home. You feel responsible. But you cannot survive if you merely feel that youll kill yourself. The professional aspect always takes over. Why did we lose? What did I do wrong? But you cant only wipe out those moments.


Set against that analysis, it was meaningful when Wenger eventually experienced the relief of winning again. The FA Cup final in 2014 against Hull City was a rollercoaster. Going 2-0 down was, he said, surreal because the thought of losing when carrying so much expectation was unthinkable. Arsenal rallied and won the Cup 3-2 in extra hour. Winning was an important moment in the life of the team. When it comes after a long time it sometimes comes with suffering, Wenger said. We had such a feeling of relief and happiness. The following year they retained the trophy with a swashbuckling performance.

The graph was back on an upward curve. Silverware, and the ability to attract a higher calibre of player made a difference. When Wenger recruited Mesut zil and Alexis Snchez, signings that were out of their league in the stray years, “its like” abruptly buying a Porsche. Wenger felt bullish again.


A selfie taken by Aaron Ramsey( left) and Santi Cazorla amid Arsenal festivities just after the final whistle of the 2015 FA Cup Final. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

The Great Survivor( 2015 -1 6 )

Spooling back 20 years, recollecting the man who arrived confident in his ability to make a success of this opportunity, Wenger initially thought he would take on this task for maybe three years, four or five if things went well. Now it is September 2016. He has had to roll with some heavyweight punches but has never come close to stepping out of the ring. What keeps him there is the impression in his intestine that keeps him obsessed by actually attempting to win.

I can only survive if I have that desire to win, he explained. If you merely fight to win that means you have to forget your life first and foremost. You feel you have more chance to win if you concentrate every part of your energy on doing that. If you lose a day by not concentrating on that you feel guilty. The years and the years and the years teach you that every small detail can induce you win or lose. Once you are convinced of that you cannot allow yourself to relax any more because you think, Maybe I am making a mistake at the moment because I am not thinking about how I can win the next game. You become a winning animal. Somewhere you slowly forget your own life. I believe any manager can only be happy if he wins. We all live desperate for it, and everybody will do everything to win. Its not a regret, its only an explanation of how the life of a manager is.

Whatever his critics induce of him, he retains the full support of his clubs majority proprietor, Stan Kroenke, and the board. Their religion in him has not hesitated. In Arsenals broader diaspora there is black, white and every tint of grey whenever there is deliberation about Wengers styles. Some advocates frustrated by the ratio between high ticket prices and club honors ventilate their spleen and hold up flags. Others feel a sense of allegiance and affection for a human who has given a lot of himself to the club during his tenure. Many are stuck in the middle.


Arsne Wenger feels the strain during his sides 4-3 defeat by Liverpool on the opening weekend of this season. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/ Reuters

There is also a range of emotions among ex-players, men who in some cases grew up while playing in one of Wengers squads, and experienced defining moments of their careers in that time. It is curious that Wenger prefers to keep a professional distance with some of the greats who are starting out in coaching Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp are among those who would have loved to return to work at the club but for whatever reason the invitations have not quite worked out. Others will never hear a word against him. Pirs is at the training ground most days. Ray Parlour tells stories with enormous warmth that present another side to the man who can often appear reserved in front of the post-match Tv camera.

What the majority do not see is the personal side of Wenger, and the qualities that have maintained him in the same task for so long. His keen intellect, his sense of trust in those around him( sometimes arguably too much trust ), his dedication and his humour all induce the man. He is very funny and has no problems laughing at himself. He is such a clever human with such a knack at understanding people. But he could also be a walking tragedy, said Parlour. He would do something accidentally every day. He could get tangled up in the nets, fell the pudding off his plate without noticing, or join in a squad relaxation technique but lie with his legs up against a partition wall rather than a solid one and roll straight-out through it.

The Future( 2016 – ?)

As The Bard wrote: One human in his time plays many proportions. After 20 years there is no single perception of Wenger and his time.

We look today at the tall, wiry frame, sometimes bearing that strained expression when things are not gone wrong, at others more urbane, with a ready wry smile and dry one-liner. In the present epoch of incessant managerial scrutiny, where millions of armchair managers give the impression of knowing better something that occasionally provokes Wenger to dismiss the nerve of critics who cast decision when they have never managed a single game the pressure is relentless. But rest assured he goes home knowing that the biggest critic, the force who applies the harshest pressure, is the man in the mirror.

Because of the sheer weight of a 20 -year marriage, it is natural to veer between periods of elation and frustration, lurch from moments of absolute religion to fierce doubt. Naturally most opinions are shaped by what is going on now. Todays Wengerometer clearly does not hit the heights it has in the past. His Arsenal is a tale in two acts. The first delivered wondrous success. The second has been complicated maybe even so complicated, lasting a decade in itself, that many have forgotten how striking act one actually was.

The last act is yet to be written. His current bargain expires at the end of this season and, as with all his other contracts, the only person who will decide if he signs another, strolls away, moves upstairs, or tries something completely different is him. It is, as Wenger says, the club of their own lives. What I like about Arsenal, and I am very proud of, is that the club is a mixture of respecting traditional values while not being scared to move forward, he said. I believe in the last 15 to 20 years you have all of that fantastic periods, difficult periods I stayed here for the respect I have for all that.

Whatever happens and when it was happens to end this collaboration between manager and club, Wenger is the last of his kind. The average timespan for a manager in Englands professional game is currently 13 months. We will not find a 20 -year boss at elite level again.

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