If you want a straight answer, he was the man who made me believe that football could be complete.
Let me explain: pundits, fans and some managers like to separate nice football from winning football, imposing the results-win-it-all philosophy at the top of the football pyramid.
Often used as an argument to defend their own unspectacular and often dirty approach to football, that mindset somehow grew roots in Europe and became a viable way of thinking football. Suddenly managers and teams were divided in two categories – those who play beautiful football and those who win trophies, as if playing good football would somehow prevent you from winning trophies!
Arsène Wenger landed the position vacated by Bruce Rioch and revolutionised that reasoning: taking over a team of proven winners, who built their reputation on strict discipline, unrivalled resilience and unbelievable organization. He quickly transformed them into a thrilling team, capable of playing high-speed football with an amazing degree of technical ability.
He proved so many people wrong by playing arguably the best football in Europe and also winning trophies; on the top of that, he gave us an unbeaten season and changed the face of the whole Premier League.
Who would have imagined Steve Bould chipping the ball past the opponents’ defensive line and Tony Adams smashing it past the goalkeeper? Only a visionary could have implemented that.
He built a fluid system that enables his players to express themselves, find the best position within the formation and be an integral part of the overall balance of the team. It’s fantastic when it works and the Invincibles were the quintessence of this beautiful approach.
That’s what I call complete football.
Yet, one could say that he should have won more: three Premier League titles, six FA Cups and as many Community Shields, plus a handful of lost finals – including the heart-breaking Champions League final loss against Barcelona in Paris.
That’s the problem with Arsène Wenger, son: you would always think that he and the Club could have achieved more.
Was it a lack of desire? Was it a lack of ambition? Was it an excess of condescension? We’ll never know.
That’s often the problem and perhaps to most infuriating thing about Arsène Wenger: his apparent reluctance to change. I say apparent because he transformed the team a few times but he seems so attached to his ideas that one might feel he could stand alone and face the worst storm ever, if he’s convinced that his boots are solid enough.
Arsène Wenger is a man of principles, son.
It’s noble, it’s elevating, it’s wonderful but it’s also damn difficult to understand, from the outside. I tell you, sticking to your principles against everyone and everything is perhaps the most difficult task you will face in your life. Pressure might be very high on you and you might be tempted to surrender and follow the stream but be careful with your choices, son, because one single decision might come back and haunt you forever.
At the same time, however, being completely impermeable to advices and suggestions could prove to be costly too and some might say that Arsène Wenger is pushing this concept to the very extreme. It looks like he’s playing the one-against-the-whole-world role but that is far from being a fault: as an ardent believer, Arsène Wenger cannot afford to be half-hearted in what he does or he would fail. You either believe in what you do and go all the way or do not even bother starting.
“If you don’t believe you can do it then you don’t have a chance at all” he used to say.
I wish you’ll have the same mental strength, growing up.
I admire this attitude but wouldn’t have had the endless patience he had with several players and I wouldn’t have kept the faith in the likes of Almunia, Djourou, Senderos, Denilson and many other unfinished products, like he did. I would like to say he shouldn’t have done that either and be more ruthless at times. Because things might have turned out differently in recent years, but I really like his approach to man-management and I can’t hide the fact that I always believe in happy endings – which perhaps explains the numerous disappointments I experienced because the Arsenal.
Should the manager of a top football Club be so unreasonably nice to his players? Perhaps not.
That’s the other “problem” with him: Arsène Wenger is a loyal man, son.
He’s loyal to his players, his loyal to his principles and his loyal to the Arsenal, the Club of a lifetime.
He arrived as a perfect stranger and proved many people wrong, received a lot of plaudits and imposed his style to the Club and the league – building a legacy that will last forever.
He reached heights that only Herbert Chapman was able to climb and perhaps surpassed him – time will tell – but had the very bad idea to stay long enough to somehow tarnish it. He’s been too loyal, if I can say that.
He decided to stay on board and go through the most delicate period of the Arsenal’s recent history, the moment Highbury was sentenced to death and the Emirates Stadium was built to replace it; suddenly we needed a bigger home to compete with the élite Clubs in England and in Europe and that translated into huge debts, big financial restrictions and virtually zero chances to complete for silverware against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City – let alone Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich.
He has done an amazing job in keeping us in the Champions League despite Almunia, Djourou, Denilson, Chamakh, Clichy and many, many other average players. He did wonderfully well in spotting young players for relatively small amounts of money and sell them for a huge plus value but fans wanted to win and things started to turn sour.
After all, no one really forced him to stick to Almunia for eight years or Denilson for five years, there were better options out there who could have maybe improved our chances to win.
At some point, the minimum target at the beginning of the season turned into the maximum aim and fans started to drift apart from one of the most unifying managers ever.
Should he have left after the FA Cup win against Hull City? He could, he would have left as a winner and somehow closed a circle, going back to winning days after a long march through the desert.
He could have walked away earlier and join one of the European giants that kept offering him a prestigious dugout; he would have conserved his status and left someone else to deal with the restrictions and difficulties of the Emirates Stadium payoff period – Sir Alex Ferguson style – but he’s a man of principles and he stayed.
Another manager would have walked away, perhaps rightly so – but not Arsène Wenger.
It surely ruined his reputation and I personally find it painful to see how fans are turning against one of the finest managers in world football history but he knew what he was going to happen: trophies are the only thing that count at the end of the day and there’s no place for gratitude in football, these days less than ever.
Despite that, he will always be the man who changed the Arsenal forever and took the Club to another level.
That’s who Arsène Wenger is, son.