One Arsène Wenger: A Personal Story

Spread the love

It was a typically sunny day in Chennai, India, in 2006. My friends decided to shout the names of their favourite football players from the top of the school building – 11-year-olds in the Chennai heat towards the end of a boring school day don’t make the best decisions. I decided I had to be a part of this and yelled out a name: Thierry Henry. This is my first Arsenal memory.

The 2006 Champions League final between Arsenal and Barcelona in Paris had only been played a short while before and I had watched it. That night of tears and injustice, of heartbreak. And one man who was responsible for countless footballing careers, for happiness to countless fans, including his most illustrious protégé, Henry – Arsène Wenger.

Arsène would see it all. In 2004 his team became the champions of England, celebrated as the ‘Invincibles’, going through a whole league season unbeaten. That whole year (not one night) of triumph and joy, of glory. Achieving the previously unimaginable in the world’s toughest league, they had proved to be toughest of the toughest and scripted their names forever in history. Oh, the beautiful game. Two years on and their hopes of being European champions were dashed, falling at the final hurdle. After that match followed eight years of debts, distress and disappointments. Oh, the irony.

And yet a visionary, a genius kept the Gunners in the Champions League every single one of those years. When Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2014, everyone could see how much of a relief it was to him, how much of a burden the lack of trophies had been to him.

To this day, if you ask Arsène Wenger what his best years as a manager were, he will tell you with a characteristic grin, ‘Those eight years, 2006-2014’. A man who made the Invincibles and won two record-breaking doubles, and his greatest achievement, according to him, was to prevent Arsenal from total disaster.

Another valuable trait he possesses which has served him well in his career is his loyalty to his players. Granted, this could go both ways – young players have shone well at the club and incompetent ones have been given more chances than they should have, indicating why trust is so important to Wenger.

This is not to say that incompetent players should continue to be given wasted chance after wasted chance, but Wenger knows better than most of us when to get rid of players who are not pulling their weight. He also seems to be getting ready for a busy 2016 summer transfer window, and no one can discredit his eye for talent.

Arsène Wenger has had a huge influence on my life and not just on my love for football, for Arsenal. His footballing philosophy focuses on style in winning, honour in playing. He highlights the club’s values, its famous traditions and its rich legacy, adding to it himself in the process of keeping Arsenal great.

And not just Arsenal. He orchestrated a sea change in the club’s ways and as extension to the league itself, as the winning brand of football shifted from boring to exciting, from direct play to possession, from defensive to attacking, and continues to add to the huge success he has had in England.

But there is special importance given to the way Arsenal win. ‘I want a fan to wake up in the morning and think “Oh, Arsenal play today. It will be a good day for me”’, he says. He considers it essential that a stylish, attacking and exciting game of football should win Arsenal games, not a drab, defensive and boring one.

Perhaps Wenger’s best contribution to the whole world, not just the footballing or sporting world, is to be mentally strong. The man was the architect of arguably the greatest ever team in modern football, and took it upon himself to oversee the management of the entire club, not just the first team – the last such football manager. Be it finances, youth and talent development, infrastructure – Arsène did it all, in the face of achievements and adversity, proving that Arsene the mental strength advocate practices what he preaches.

As the years rolled by, he had offers from the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. The names go on, but he stuck to Arsenal, not just because he wanted to fulfil his commitment to the club, but also being a huge Arsenal supporter himself. All the while standing firmly on the ground, literally and metaphorically.

Twenty years on in the business, he works as hard as he did when he joined Arsenal (by his own admission) in 1996. But class is permanent, and so is criticism. Today, there are quite a few ‘fans’ calling for a change (I’m not saying there must be no change, but getting rid of Wenger before his contract ends next summer is not it) and asking for his sacking.

They call for his head and do classless things. They forget that the man is the one responsible for the joy we get when we watch Arsenal play. They wave unwelcome banners at the Emirates Stadium, even during games, creating tense and pressurising atmospheres for the players. After twenty years of consistency and staying at the top of the best league in the world with a man who’s given his all. As the French say, ‘C’est la vie’.

Through all the trials and tribulations, and all the glories, Arsène Wenger has succeeded in keeping Arsenal classy. That may be his greatest achievement. A phrase coined for another sporting legend, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, it works well for Arsenal too. Thank you, Arsène. We look forward to seeing more greatness from you.