It’s difficult to put into a short amount of words just how much of an impact Arsène Wenger has had not only on Arsenal Football Club, but also on the overall modern game of football. To talk of a man who sacrificed his entire reputation, reorganized the club’s philosophies and put a significant amount of attention in regards to an influx of new talent. A man who will one day be cast in bronze and placed outside his own project, the Emirates Stadium, the ‘biggest decision in Arsenal’s history’, to further cement the legacy he has had on the sport of football.
To speak of a man who completely revolutionised the game alongside his long-time nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson. The little-known, “inexperienced”, manager dubbed ‘Arsène Who?’, changed the entire landscape of English football as we know of it today. Entering one of Europe’s most prestigious leagues whilst developing modern coaching along with an introduction to fluid, attacking football to his “boring, boring Arsenal” team.
This is the story of Arsène Wenger’s era at Arsenal Football Club. The man who completely transformed English football as we know of it whilst becoming arguably Arsenal’s greatest ever manager. The man who came from absolutely nowhere to produce one of the greatest ever footballing rivalries alongside his nemesis, underachieved in his later years to bring the best trophies to North London but was still able to prove it’s not only success that can prove your worth as a top manager.
The early days in football
Before going on to talk about the role that Wenger has played across his in England, it’s important to look back and explore the decisions he made that were fortunate enough to bring him to this moment in his career. Wenger was recruited to third division side Mutzig by manager Max Hild – who would go on to becoming not only Wenger’s mentor, but, had a marvellous impact on his career. As a result of his older age of 20, the Frenchman was told that it was too late to build up a respectable playing career.
This never entirely stopped him from pursuing a career in football, but it certainly limited him overall. Spending a majority of his career playing in the lower divisions of French football, Arsène Wenger remained dedicated on his studies as well as maintaining focus on a potential future career in management. He would frequently read football related magazines as well as sporadically watch Bundesliga matches alongside his mentor Hild. To extend on his knowledge, Wenger would typically observe different managerial tactics whilst paying attention to the regimes on display at German clubs, with Borussia Monchengladbach being one in particular.
The German side enjoyed their greatest run as a football club in the 1970s, matching Bayern Munich’s record of consecutive league titles between 1975 and 1977. Die Fohlen also found success in Europe, winning the UEFA Cup on two occasions in 1975 and 1979. The training and nutrition on display in Germany inspired Wenger to use a similar mentality once he arrived in England, as well as at other destinations across his managerial career. The importance of training and dieting played a major part in the philosophy Wenger wanted to utilise in his managerial career.
This earned an outstanding sum of praise from his future players such as Glenn Hoddle. During an interview with Sky Sports, Hoddle revealed that: ‘Everything was structured and organised to the second so I could tell straight away what he wanted from his individuals and from his team. There was instant clarity. I had never worked so hard; three sessions per day in the first week was [like] nothing we’d done in England. It was very, very tough training, but you got fit.’
Away from football, the Frenchman remained as dedicated to his studies as he was with the sport he had grown to love. Enrolling at the Faculty of Economic and Management Studies at the University of Strasbourg in 1971 after a brief stint with medicine, Wenger remained focused on not only his passion for sport, but also his academia. Despite any potential clashes, he kept both balanced to prevent any conflict and signed for Mulhouse in 1973.
At Mulhouse, Wenger was managed by Paul Frantz – another manager to have a significant impact on his future career. Although realising the importance of dieting and isometrics a little earlier in his life, it was Frantz who perfectly emphasized this to the aspiring manager. Departing the club two years later along with his former manager, Wenger rekindled his relationship with his mentor Max Hild at ASPV Strasbourg, and later at RC Strasbourg.
The club he supported as a young boy ended up being the final club he would play at during his professional career as a footballer. His beloved Strasbourg won the league title in the 1978/79 season, but Wenger’s short stint in the first team along with his dedication to the youth side cancelled his celebrations.
By 1979 he was set to embark on a lengthy process to achieve his goal of becoming a football manager. Realising the importance of speaking other languages, Wenger used his holidays to take part in an English speaking course at Cambridge University. Before long, Weger spent the next two years of his life studying the art and science of football whilst earning his coaching badges. By 1981, he earned his manager’s diploma in France and was ready to embark on the next step to achieve his aim of becoming a world class manager.
The beginning of the manager
Although looking to start off his profound managerial career as a head coach, his first job following the completion of his coaching badges came in the role of Jean-Marc Guillot’s assistant at Cannes. During his brief stint at the club, it was Wenger’s role to study the opposition’s team and added much needed discipline into their training sessions. His work on raising the overall standard of the squad combined with his dedication to research never went unnoticed, and accepted an offer from Aldo Platini to become the manager of AS Nancy.
For his first ever season in management, Wenger offered a significant amount of promise across his first year as a manager. Unable to spend any money as a result of financial complications, Nancy were still able to finish in a respectable 11th position – three positions higher than last season – under Arsène Wenger. Wenger’s fluid attacking style saw streaks of positivity as his team recorded more goals than 5th placed Metz and matched 4th placed Auxerre. Nevertheless, the same amount of praise can not be offered to the defense of the team as they conceded a poor 54 goals.
Unfortunately, the following season offering zero room for positivity as AS Nancy were led to relegation from the French Division 1. This was not entirely Arsène Wenger’s fault, however, taking into considering that financial complications restricted him from making any signings once again. During his tenure with the club, he offered professional debuts to a handful of youngsters and also altered the positions for some of his players. Regardless of relegation, Wenger left AS Nancy under mutual consent and signed for AS Monaco.
Following two years of financial restrictions preventing Wenger from delving into the transfer market, he was finally able to make the signings he wanted to make at his new club Monaco. Every player Wenger was interested in signing eventually joined him in France. The likes of: Glenn Hoddle, Patrick Battiston and Mark Hateley were all players who eventually joined the balanced Monaco side.
Wenger’s first proper transfer window proved to be a success as glory soon followed. The well balanced side he moulded together proved to be a huge threat as Monaco lifted the league title in his first season at the club. Brilliance in defence by the likes of: Manuel Amoros, Claude Puel and Patrick Battiston combined with the withstanding attack from the likes of: Omar Da Fonseca and Mark Hateley supported the balance that Wenger helped to produce that lead to the club’s glory.
Away from such a balanced team, Wenger’s philosophy of a maintaining a controlled healthy diet proved to be consequential to his side’s success. After improving his side from a woeful 5th placed position the year prior, the Frenchman meant business in France, also winning the Manager of the Year award for his job throughout the title winning season at Monaco. His initial success as a manager allowed for the style and philosophy that he has continued to develop for years prior to management to become his focal point for the future of his managerial career.
Regrettably, the 1987/88 season was the only year in which Arsène Wenger was able to guide his Monaco side to league glory. Flourishing with an attacking 4-4-2 formation, signing one of the greatest Africans of all time in George Weah and having an impact on the production of future World Cup winning stars: Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram, Wenger’s time at Monaco was still filled with remnants of success.
As noted, Wenger’s intellect in the transfer market allowed for him to sign prolific goalscorer George Weah going into his second season as Monaco boss. Despite scoring more goals in comparison to their title winning season, Monaco finished the season in 3rd place. Despite the poor finish, they were able to reach the final of the Coupe de France but lost to Marseille.
“Le Professeur’s” later years at Les Rouges et Blanc came with mixed responses, although securing success in 1991 with the Coupe de France trophy, a majority of his final years as manager saw constant near misses. Losing the 1992 European Cup Winner’s Cup to Werder Bremen and also missing out on a Champion League final place when his side lost to eventual winners AC Milan.
Experiencing both success and failure across his tenure at AS Monaco, his time at the club would meet it’s end towards the end of 1994. Originally, Wenger pushed for a move to Bayern Munich until the club refused to let a move happen. With a terrible start to the season combined with ongoing corruption and bribery across France – most notably with Marseille being punished for match fixing – Wenger’s time at Monaco came to an end after being released from the club.
Regardless of failing to bring more success, everything that Wenger bought and transformed at Monaco was soon praised by his former players later in life. Ballon D’or winner George Weah went on to say: ‘He took care of me like a son and I couldn’t believe that because when racism was at its peak, Arsène taught me that black men and white men can live together.’ Jurgen Klinsmann is another man to praise the work ethic of Arsène Wenger as he later revealed that: ‘I learnt a lot from him, especially now … He was an inspiration’.
Taking into account the media’s reaction following his appointment at Arsenal later in the years that follow, it’s rather unfortunate that Wenger’s time at Monaco went unnoticed. Throughout a period of match-fixing and scandals dominating the French game, Wenger was able to offer a contrasting approach that the rest of France would soon follow. Following his methods of utilising the academy as well as copying some of his training and nutritional techniques, parts of French football was heading in a brighter direction – thanks to Arsène Wenger.
With the Bayern Munich manager’s position already filled by Franz Beckenbauer, there was no clear direction for Wenger to follow. After meeting with representatives with Toyota, majority owner of Nagoya Grampus Eight, at a press conference held by FIFA, Wenger was offered – and accepted after months of negotiations – a deal to become their manager on a two year deal.
At the Japanese team, Wenger identified and hired an old friend in Boro Primorac to become his assistant manager. The duo continue to work with one another today at current club Arsenal. Learning about the improvement of a player’s mind and body – evident during a training camp to Versailles – Wenger soon guided his team from the bottom of the J-League to runners-up and earned the Manager of the Year award whilst winning the Emperor’s Cup, and the J-League Super Cup the following year.
Arsene Wenger ended his time at Nagoya Grampus Eight on lighter terms with a mixed legacy. Following the uncertainty over George Graham’s successor Bruce Rioch, former vice-chairman David Dein recommended Wenger, and he was soon appointed. It’s fair to say that no one knew how much of an impact this appointment would have on English football as we know it.
‘Arsene Who?’ – The ten memorable years
In spite of where you stand on Arsene Wenger in the current day, it’s hard to put into words just how much he has done for not only the club but English football throughout his 20 year tenure at the club. To some he will forever be known as ‘Le Professeur’, the man who completely revolutionised the North London club and brought some of the greatest success during his earlier years as manager. The man who completely sacrificed his entire legacy – rejecting PSG on numerous occasions as well as other clubs including Barcelona – for the sake of the club that he had known to love. However to others, he is simply known as the man who has stagnated the club and failed to deliver more successful years as manager whilst jeering: ‘Arsene, thanks for the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye’.
From the second he arrived at North London, it was obvious that Wenger meant business and was ready to transform an already historical football club. A virtual unknown in English football, Wenger immediately had much to prove to his critics following his transition from Japan to England.
The media were quick to apply pressure on the new Arsenal boss, writer Nick Hornby summarised it perfectly by going on to say: ‘I remember when Bruce Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names. It was Terry Venables, Johan Cruyff and then, at the end, Arsène Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan, I bet it’s fucking Arsène Wenger, because I haven’t heard of him and I’ve heard of the other two. Trust Arsenal to appoint the boring one that you haven’t heard of.’
In addition to this, the Arsenal players were quick to add extra pressure on Wenger. Club captain Tony Adams went on to say that: ‘At first, I thought, what does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher.’ Lee Dixon followed by revealing: ‘The players filed in and in front of us stood this tall, slightly built man who gave no impression whatsoever of being a football manager.’
Notwithstanding the fact that Wenger lost the support from his fellow players upon his arrival, the second he began to make crucial changes, all opinions changed.
Unlike his predecessors Bruce Rioch and George Graham, the board gave Wenger a lot more freedom at the club; control over transfers, contracts and also training sessions. The second he arrived to the historical London club, Wenger immediately began to make changes that would influence and transform English football as we know of it.
Lecturing the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, in came the nutritional experts to monitor the respective player’s diets. The days of Mars bars, red meat and alcohol were long gone as advised pasta, boiled chicken and raw vegetables came in.
Considering club captain Tony Adams was a suffering alcoholic, the dietary and lifestyle changes that Wenger brought to the club certainly had a significant impact on Adam’s life. Wenger remained loyal to his captain through his confessions and was an important factor in saving him from alcohol abuse.
Taking into consideration the changes he made to his players diet, Wenger also played an unforgettable part in reconstructing the training regimes. The long, boring training sessions that were used by George Graham were scrapped, Wenger was taking control and doing everything his own way.
New training sessions, specific personal training and brand new dietary plans were all unveiled, the media were angry at the revolutionary changes, but soon all clubs followed in a similar direction to what Wenger introduced to English football.
Although failing to qualify for the Champions League – missing out due to Newcastle United having a higher goal difference – Arsenal were still able to finish in a respectable third place, two places higher than Rioch’s only reign at the club. With flowing attacking football as well as constant brilliant performances on display, Wenger soon won the hearts of not only his players, but all Arsenal fans.
Bearing in mind that Arsene Wenger has been praised for his eye for talent in the transfer market, his first summer window at North London was filled with success. Exciting prospect Nicolas Anelka was bought earlier in the year whilst more experienced players: Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, and Gilles Grimandi all arrived in the summer – each playing an important part in future success.
Building a strong squad including a variety of top talent, Wenger fired the Gunners to the Premier League title in his first full season at the club, potentially one of the greatest first full seasons ever to happen in English football. ‘Arsene Who?’ they said, Arsene Wenger was not only the first ever non-British manager to win the title, but he was the first ever foreigner to secure the domestic double – beating Newcastle in the FA Cup final. After just two seasons in English football, Arsene Wenger was already the most successful foreign manager in all of English football.
Wenger’s different approach at Arsenal was fulfilled with positivity: the technical attacking football on display was different to the norm, the nutritional changes proved to be an essential factor in the club’s success whilst the new training regimes offered new ways for his players to learn and adapt their style. Other managers were influenced by the Arsenal manager, and soon replicated his methods on nutrition, isometrics and training regimes.
The next few years under the Frenchman were certainly not as good in comparison to his first two years at the club. After failing to secure the title for three consecutive years, finishing 2nd every time, but the support for Wenger was as strong as ever. Cup competitions during this time were also below par, losing an UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray as well as getting close to the FA Cup.
The next season saw significant changes with Wenger winning his second domestic double as a manager. Turning some of the greatest players to ever grace the club in Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp into world beaters, the future at North London was filled with potential for greater success in the near future.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season.”
The Invincibles… the greatest Premier League side to ever grace England’s top league. The team that defied all odds and went 38 games undefeated. Arsene Wenger led his side to Premier League glory in what was one of the most one sided league seasons to date. 11 points ahead of Chelsea, an astonishing 15 points ahead of Manchester United and an astronomical 30 points ahead of fourth placed Liverpool.
The “inexperienced” untrusted foreigner branded with ‘Arsene Who?’, the man who was labeled with ‘no impression whatsoever of being a football manager’, became a pioneer in a transitional period of English football. Proving the worth of dieting and isometrics on top of inspiring current and future managers whilst rewriting the tactical rulebook, the unknown man from Japan did the unthinkable and successfully led Arsenal to an undefeated Premier League season.
Away from the factors that have been consistently named, Arsene Wenger also had a noteworthy impact on the influx of foreign talent entering the Premier League. Wenger was never afraid to go against the social norm, and continued his job in his own way and influencing all other managers to look elsewhere in the world to purchase exciting talent.
The likes of Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and every other member of the squad played a crucial part in becoming the first English team to go a whole season unbeaten since Preston North End in 1889. The former “boring, boring Arsenal” played entertaining football which in return received the greatest achievement in English football history.
An FA Cup win against fierce rival Manchester United in 2005 ended what was a highly successful period for Arsene Wenger at North London. With the construction of a brand new stadium in the process, life immediately became havoc not only for Wenger, but for Arsenal Football Club as a whole.
The biggest period of Wenger’s career
In the summer of 2006, Arsenal completed their transition from the beloved Highbury Stadium to new pastures at the newly-built Emirates Stadium in what was a crucial turning point in the club’s history. For the next 9 years, Arsenal entered an ever growing period of financial complications which had serious implications for the Gunners in both the short and long runs. This became evident as the FA Cup win in 2005 was infact the last piece of silverware the Gunners would win for the next 9 years. A large sum of money was needed to be made in order to pay off the enormous debt whilst the era of finances soon rose with the incomings of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour.
Life at Arsenal Football Club was slowly getting worse and worse. With the club having limited funds whilst financial powerhouses Manchester City and Chelsea were spending outstanding amounts every transfer window, the battle to earn silverware became increasingly unlikely. This became evident with three consecutive cup final losses across the financial period – A Champions League defeat to Barcelona combined with Carling/Capital One Cup losses to Chelsea and Birmingham City respectively.
The days of the Invincibles were long gone as well as the players and some staff that were apart of it. Club favourites David Dein and Thierry Henry departed due to the uncertainty of the future of the club whilst other fan-favourites including Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires departed in future transfer windows, the legendary Dennis Bergkamp also announced his retirement. The perfect, balanced team that Arsene Wenger produced over the years soon turned their backs on him for the benefits of their personal careers.
With a large majority of funds paying off the stadium debt, it was a difficult task to maintain consistency and build another world class squad without the financial prowess. Wenger’s eye for talent was a significant factor throughout the financial struggles. The likes of: Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey, Hector Bellerin, and other highly rated youngsters joined the club for small fees. Academy prospects: Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny all followed a similar path and had a great impact on the club later in their careers.
Regardless of the consistent 3rd or 4th placed finishes in the league, not looking a major threat in England and European cup competitions as well as failing to win a major trophy for nine years, what Wenger achieved at Arsenal is undoubtedly one of his greatest achievements. Taking into account the amount of clubs that have stagnated as a result of financial implications, Wenger’s loyalty and passion to maintain Arsenal’s consistency every season is undoubtedly a fantastic managerial performance by the proclaimed ‘Le Professeur’.
Football pundit, and former Manchester United player, Gary Neville is a key individual to identify the significance of Wenger’s reign at North London: ‘… they have maintained that level of consistency of getting into the Champions League. They’ve built a football stadium, they are paying off the debt and they’re nearly there, if they go on like that now it will be one of the most magnificent managerial performances when you look back in history … of all the madness and all the debt that’s folding Leeds United, Portsmouth, what they’ve done is absolutely the right thing.’
Immediately following the end of the financial implications on hold at the Emirates, Wenger was quick in returning silverware to North London with consecutive FA Cup and Community Shield victories in 2014 and 2015. Star players were also signed as the likes of: Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Granit Xhaka have all transitioned to English football.
As of writing, there are currently just over 8 months remaining on Wenger’s current deal – with no indication whatsoever on whether or not he will remain or depart the club. With an increasing amount of pressure from the fans to finally deliver a long awaited Premier League title win, the final seven months of this season will be crucial in determining the Frenchman’s future at the club.
Whether you favour Arsene Wenger to continue his reign at North London or if you’re ready for a brand new era to take place, it’s certain that not only every Arsenal fan, but, every football fan should respect the job that he has done for both Arsenal Football Club and English football as we know it.
Here’s to Arsene Wenger, the pioneer of a footballing era.