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.