Saturday’s game against Chelsea will be Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game as le gaffeur of Arsenal. A tribute to this was paid last night on both Radio 5 and Talksport. Normally I would not listen to such programmes. I admire Wenger, I like his football values and know many Arsenal fan,s but I thought it would be a media love-in of Arsenal fans in the press and that I would learn little that I did not already know. In fact I did, and found myself engrossed by both programmes. Bob Wilson spoke movingly of how sensitive Arsene was to his daughter Anne’s cancer and followed closely her ultimately unsuccessful battle with mortality, often insisting Bob Wilson sat beside him on coach journeys. Ray Parlour, who represented the drinking culture inherent in the club when Wenger succeeded Bruce Rioch, spoke of his wit. Parlour was involved in a landmark divorce whereby his wife successfully claimed 40% of his earnings for the role she played in his career. Wenger said he should also have 40% too, for developing the player. Parlour also said that bank lending was conditional on Wenger havng a 5 year contract, no doubt mindful of the revenue for the Champions League, which he has always delivered. Amy Lawrence was a fount of knowledge on Wenger’s Arsenal, delivered in a cool informative fashion.
For me, his greatest ability is to identify young talent, work on it and turn it into top class players. The financial imperative was that Anelka, Henry, Toure, Fabregas, Flamini, Vieira, Adenbayor, Clichy, Cole, Kleb and Song were sold for top dollar prices. And few, if any, had enhanced careers.
Jose Mourinho, with typical dismissive brashness, termed Wenger a failure as 8 years without silverware would result in the sack at the clubs he (Jose) had managed. This rather ignores that the clubs he managed successfully had a bottomles pot to buy players and did not have to move ground. Wenger was constrained by his budget, though this does not totally explain or justify a reluctance to spend, especially on goalkeepers. However, Mourinho does not generally stick around long enough to develop young talent, preferring to buy it in expensively.
As David Dein, his great executive arm at Arsenal, warned those who wanted to see Arsene go “Be careful what you wish for”. You only have to look at Manchester United to see what can happen if a new appointment does not go as it should.