‘Legacy is not leaving something for people, it is leaving something in people.’
Personally speaking, Arsène Wenger has managed to do both and we as football consumers will only truly appreciate his legacy once he is no longer at the forefront of the club he lives for. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger’s tenure at the club so what better opportunity to take stock and explore why we should toast to this wonderful achievement and be grateful for the person and manager he has been and continues to be. Here’s my top 5 reasons to raise a glass to Monsieur Wenger.
1) The legends and the unknowns he brought through
From home favorites such as Thierry Henry and Laurent Koscielny to cult favorites like Kolo Toure or Lauren to now pantomime villains such as Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie, Wenger has unearthed in many cases some excellent talents across his 20 year spell. The blossoming transformations of all of the players mentioned whilst at Arsenal is a pattern that has repeated time and time again and most impressively for players from across the globe and from humble club standings.
2) The constant promotion and trust of youth
In times where others were spending unseen amounts on transfers, whether through external financial aid or running into debts, Wenger competed by going against the grain and putting his trust in youth. Mostly from a place of need but also strongly in part out of principle, the watching world saw Wenger introduce season after season young players from both the academy and from abroad, representing the club in all competitions. Such were his commitment to his players and his principles that he may have sacrificed some ‘easy wins’ in competitions by allowing certain, lesser experienced players to play. This is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that in all his 20 years at the club, he is still yet to win the League Cup trophy (EFL cup) which he has consistently used as a competition to blood new players.
3) The transition to the new training ground and new stadium
Wenger has done for Arsenal what no other modern day manager has done for their club. Granted he has had considerably much more time than most but he had certainly earned it through his results in the first half of his tenure. But looking at what he has done to transform the standing of the club cannot be understated. From overseeing a move to a new and improved training ground in the late 90s, to helping instigate a move to a new stadium now 10 seasons ago, the vision and execution of his ideas have put the club on the map as one of the leading lights in the game both on and off the pitch.
4) The brand of football
Yes the trophies have certainly dried up in the second half of his tenure but the quality of the process is undeniable. Admirably Wenger is an idealistic coach and coaches with his players’ inner child at the heart;
“Professional football is always ‘you have to’. Creative football is ‘I want to’. For us as coaches it is important as well that we speak to the fun, the desire, the creative side of human beings.”
Clearly a champion of creativity over pragmatism (Another reason perhaps he and arch nemesis Mourinho clash so consistently) this approach may not have been so rigidly enforced in certain fixtures looking back. However, when at it’s best, the approach has lead to some wonderful goals over the last 20 years. This clip captures some excellent combination play, speed of thought, late runs into the box and clinical finishing (watch for the little jig on 0.23).
5) The consistent Champions League qualification
The ultimate achievement is to win a competition but when we talk of the Champions League we talk of a competition that has been only won by one of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in 7 of the last 10 years. It is an extremely difficult nut to crack.
However, domestically speaking, the ‘competition’ to qualify for the actual competition itself is just as intense and the sheer consistency of Arsenal’s finishes over the last 20 years in the league has been nothing short of outstanding given the fact that more spending centric clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool have fallen short in this time.