Welcome back to my 2-part series of posts on dealing with change as a fan. I suggest you read the first part here for some background.
George Graham’s Era to the Fans & the Wenger Parallel
George Graham won 6 trophies with Arsenal – 2 league titles, 2 League Cups, 1 FA Cup, 1 European Cup Winner’s Cup. If you want to count the Charity Shield then you can throw that in there as well and make it 7. He did it at a time when Liverpool had won the league 7 times between 1980 and 1990!
Each supporter I spoke to loved George Graham. These are some of the things that have been said and I’ll follow that by explaining why I think these sentiments are very telling:
I was really excited when we appointed George Graham; he was a breath of fresh air & instilled the traditions & values of playing for the club into the young players coming through & was a brilliant manager for us. Was sad to see George go but really the club had no option although I do think he was made a scapegoat as many other managers were taking bungs as well at time.
George Graham was a superb manager for Arsenal. He put us back on the map was a great tactician brought massive success back to the club & you could see the impact he had on the club immediately.
I think by winning the title twice as well as the various cups, George showed a whole generation of fans that it was possible to win trophies consistently – something my generation had only seen Liverpool do, really.
…there was just a sense that Arsenal was a bigger club again, and SHOULD be competing at the top.
Graham could do no wrong in my eyes.
Graham went for the bungs, if it wasn’t for that I’d have given him another few years to turn it around, he deserved that.
George was the first manager who came along and changed Arsenal into a big club again.
George Graham; he changed the spirit of the club and it was noticeable. Don Howe brought in young players but George Graham picked it up and brought them through.
George Graham struck me from day one as a manager who had a plan. We had good players on the verge of the first team or ones who had a few games; Rocky/Adams. He gave them their heads. Supporters love to see own players being brought through.
It was the end of an era, he awoke the beast. He made us feared and broke Liverpool’s dominance. The way he left I was gutted to be honest. There’s no denying the football wasn’t up to the standard of his early years, but we were still winning cups.
Graham made a generation of Arsenal supporters BELIEVE again. He made Arsenal GREAT again. Notice a tone of loyalty in the remarks above. Although they also noted that the quality of football during Graham’s latter years took quite a nose dive, they wanted HIM to turn it around. Sound familiar?
Now let’s put these supporters aside for a moment and come to us; supporters who have only seen Wenger. You can say we were born [as supporters] in an era of success that was unprecedented in Arsenal’s history. Or was it unprecedented?
Wenger pretty much repeated the feats of Graham in his early years. Graham broke Liverpool’s dominance, Wenger broke United’s. The difference being Wenger did it with an unprecedented style of football – football that made us the envy of other supporters. Eventually his trophy haul was better than Graham’s too. Wenger went on to ensure we were constantly challenging albeit for lesser parts of the season but ensure we qualified for the Champions League. Wenger stuck to a task to ensure that the future of Arsenal is also secure. For us, Wenger could do no wrong.
We have only HEARD of how Wenger completely changed the face of the club; but, we did not witness it – we did not witness the pre-Wenger eras. We did not have to go through ups and downs and periods of mediocrity as fans. Graham pretty much changed the face of the club too. Supporters from that era had a vastly different reference point.
As a supporter, what’s the difference between us and those who saw Graham’s era? Apart from the obvious [they endured years of mediocrity interspersed with success]?
They saw him leave. They had to begrudgingly accept that yes, change was required.
Change and Post-Graham
Graham obviously created a shift in expectations with his achievements. Although the quality of football was on the decline by the time he left, he was still winning trophies. Nonetheless, incoming manager Bruce Rioch would be expected to take Arsenal on a rise again. Signings of Bergkamp and Platt gave a feeling that ‘the shackles were off’. Exciting times were ahead.
However, unlike other Arsenal managers, for whatever reasons Rioch only stuck around for a season. Previous managers have had time on their side to deliver success; 5-10 years on average.
Wenger’s appointment surprised everybody, no one had heard of him. One supporter even wrote to board to cite his reservations at the time! The only thing supporters could do was to trust the board. Rioch did deliver European qualification as he left by the way, so he wasn’t necessarily a bad appointment either. Graham had been successful as well; so, there was no major reason to not trust the board.
In fact, one view was that it was known that European football was well ahead of English football at the time so bringing in a European manager wasn’t ‘outlandish’.
I believe the key here is how much time supporters are willing to give a manager to start delivering results. The view from the older supporters varies between two years to going one season at a time – progress must be seen each season.
Wenger delivered pretty much immediately; an improved league finish of 3rd in his debut season followed by the league and cup double! Follow that with 7-8 years of continuously challenging for the league interspersed with appearances in European finals, cup wins, and a couple of more league wins; it doesn’t get better than that!
We all know what has happened since then – continuous Champions League qualifications by playing beautiful football and now two successive cup wins with a squad full of talent.
So why has there been a considerable voice asking for a change?
Change because we have been there.
No, no one actually said that. However, I believe that’s what makes the older supporters so comfortable with the idea of change. With previous managers they knew change had to be made. Wenger, of course, is not exactly in the same situation as those managers in terms of league finishes, lack of success, or quality of football.
Each time a change was made, it paid dividends one way or another.
The difference has been the expectations each time. Wenger raised the bar in the early part of his managerial career at Arsenal. He maintained a relatively high bar as his time at Arsenal progressed. So why change?
The reasons given vary from signings not being made when we desperately needed them, to Wenger’s stubbornness, his inability to hold onto talent, his in-game deficiencies that kept coming to the fore over and over again. One wanted change just because he became bored of watching the same shortcomings every season. Another few don’t believe that Wenger can win the title again.
Does it mean they don’t want Wenger to succeed again? No. They would love that because they do respect Wenger and wouldn’t mind a final swansong for the man. Plus, if Wenger wins, Arsenal wins.
Anyway, the key here is that there is no reason to be afraid of change.
Arsenal Set Up for the Future
I spoke to some fans similar to me as well to understand their fears; they were similar to mine which I mentioned earlier in this post. However, a couple of them did point out that we may not have much to fear about because Wenger will leave the club in good shape – squad, funds, academy.
That’s our internal strength.
The external opportunity, Mark King mentioned, is that the Arsenal manager job could be one that reputed managers may manage their current contracts for i.e. make sure they’re available when Wenger leaves. Why? Arsenal is a top club with a world class stadium, plays quality of football with a talented squad, and the cherry on top is that it’s located in London.
These two points gave me a reassurance that change won’t be the worst thing in the world. We should embrace the change that is to come.
I discussed potential managerial candidates – big name manager versus someone familiar with the club, what qualities/characteristics should they have – and expectations of the future manager with Andy, Mark, Phil et al. However, I now feel that including those parts of the discussion will actually be a move away from this topic.
Having said that, I would like to say that I believe Arsenal will be at an advantage either way because the board will make sure that Arsenal’s identity of quality football will not be lost.
Wrapping it Up
I started this post stating that this topic is premature but I hope that any readers that have fears similar to mine about the post-Wenger era, that this will start an unconscious acceptance towards the inevitable change that will take place.
Moreover, I hope that we will be patient with whoever comes in. One of the older supporters mentioned, and I agree with this, that in the age of social media our expectations are a lot higher. We want instant results, instant success. Wenger will leave huge shoes to fill; but, we will need to take the whole situation in perspective and help the new manager fill those shoes.
Lastly, I hope this post helped shape some of that perspective. In my language, we have saying that goes ‘sabar ka phall meetha hota hai’ which translates into ‘the fruit born from patience is sweet’ and I am a firm believer in that. Hell, Wenger is somewhat proving that now! For the older supporters, compare the trophy haul from the 60s to Don Howe i.e. 20-25 years, to the trophy haul in the 12-14 years that followed!
Anyway, I hope we stand united behind the new manager whenever the time comes and are patient.
If you have any thoughts or comments then do share them, I always reply (hint: check the ‘notify me of follow-up comments by email’ box). Or you can tweet me and we can attempt a discussion limited by 140-character statements!
With thanks again to Gav @SheWore, Phil @angryofN5. Andy @yorkshiregunner. Gary @garythegooner56 and Mark @Mzk90