Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson have become the first two managers to be inducted into the Premier League’s Hall of Fame.
It’s fitting that their inductions should coincide as for many fans their rivalry in the late nineties and early noughties defined English Football.
It made Arsenal Vs Man United box office hits, with both squads generally believing they were the best and having disdain for each other.
You could argue the biggest insult was when both coaches became (not quite friends) but respectful towards each other.
In reality there was a period when Sir Alex didn’t view Mr Wenger as a threat anymore.
Many Gooners divide the Frenchman’s legacy into two parts, the first half when he won three titles and took us the closest we ever been in our history to the Champions League trophy, the second – where he claimed top 4 was a trophy.
The man himself would later reflect, ‘Highbury was my Soul, the Emirates my suffering’.
Despite that he views the number of times he qualified for the Champions League while working on a restricted budget and having to sell his best assets as his best achievement. A body of work that left the club in a financially strong position.
My own stance at the time was only when he left North London would we realise how hard it was to finish 4th under his current employers.
Almost to prove that point, we are in our 5th season since the 73-year-old left and only now are we finally about to return to UEFA’s top table.
There are current readers who would mock Mr Wenger for ‘only finishing 4th’ who would later call 5th progress.
Fans who would verbally abuse the greatest boss in our history for ‘only finishing 4th’ who would then defend 8th position, our worst finish in quarter of a century.
Mr Wenger is unique compared to his peers. Of course, he wants to win but it was never ‘win at all costs’ like a Jose Mourinho.
Mr Wenger had a vision, a way he believed the sport should be played, his dream to produce a team who could play beautiful football while being successful.
He used his knowledge of the World’s game to bring in hidden gems and develop into world class talent. Talent who either lifted trophies or were assets who made a huge profit for the club.
Vieira, Ljungberg, Anelka, Fabregas, Toure, Clichy, Vanpersie, Nasri, Adebayor, Giroud, Cazorla just to name a few.
Yet he didn’t stop at just being able to identify a diamond in the rough, he had a vision.
He could identify a player’s strengths and convince them that the strength even existed in the first place.
Thierry Henry was brought as a left winger who had won the World Cup so couldn’t understand why he was being asked to be a striker.
Lauren was talked into making right back his permanent position.
Tony Adams was replaced by Toure, not a traditional centre back.
A teenager was trusted to take Vieira’s place.
Just like a teenager replaced Ian Wright.
Not bad for a coach without much tactical understanding. One of many bogus theories to downplay his efforts. Another being that he was simply lucky to inherit the back 5 he did.
Which of course doesn’t make sense given that the same defence hadn’t come close to lifting the title since they last lifted it.
It was their new mangers training regime, dietary methods and exercise techniques which extended the careers of Dixon, Adams, Keown.
Those who accuse Mr Wenger of not knowing how to build a defence also fail to ignore that none of our first choice back 5 who made up the Invincibles were at the club before him.
Mr Wenger’s greatest strength in many ways was his biggest weakness…. his love for the Gunners.
Many say they love the badge and don’t mean it.
Helped by the uniqueness of the job where he had control in the majority of the aspects of the club, Mr Wenger was proud of the values and principles he had helped set.
Yet when the scale of building the Emirates became apparent others in his position would have left.
To pay off loans and having spent money that was owed to them, the business model was to ensure Champions League revenue, while selling their best talent every summer. Under those criteria, The Gunners could forget about being title contenders.
Of course, they could never admit that to their customers who they needed to buy merchandise and tickets.
Due to loyalty, Mr Wenger became the shield for Billionaire owners who refused to invest a single penny of their own wealth into the club, and yet resisted when others wanted to.
Mr Wenger has since admitted a ‘who’s who’ of teams offered him work and that he regrets not listening.
If he was purely being judged on how many medals, he won he could have just bolted to a PSG or Bayern Munich.
Yet repayment plans were being agreed by banks on the provision that he commit to the club.
Maybe naively Mr Wenger believed that the love and loyalty would work two ways? For that not to happen is a reflection on a section of our fanbase.
Instead of seeing how restricted he was in his role they took top 4 for granted, thinking they had a divine right for CL nights.
He warned in his last year that as fans, there was a portion who were in danger of sacrificing the principles he had helped set for the club.
The irony won’t be lost on him that having been forced out the club for the two seasons he failed to make top 4, Emery and Arteta would be defended for …. failing to make top 4.
If you never watched his movie, go and watch it. It’s a sad story.
A man who sacrificed everything for Arsenal, including his family, and never quite got the same love back.
He never would have thought that some would thank his loyalty by protesting, swearing down a camera, putting up banners, filming him slipping over at train stations, hiring planes to fly over grounds, etc.
Others will sing his name forever.
Mr Wenger won three titles, 7 FA Cups, played beautiful football, brought the greatest players we ever witnessed, and most of all captured our hearts.
Not just he deserves his place in the hall of fame, he should have his own wing.
Watch our brilliant Arsenal Women beat Bayern Munich to reach the Champions League Semi-Finals (World class strike from Frida Maanum!)
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