History often leaves you with a sense of amazement. The sheer distinctness of the past from the present sometimes makes it difficult to believe.
If ever the history of football is narrated, the tenures of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, would attract a similar degree of marvel as the Egyptian pyramids. As remarkable their careers are as of today, the ever-changing landscape of modern-day football will only make their deeds grow in the future.
As Wenger gears up for his farewell parade, pulling the curtain down on an era of football management, Manchester United fans might be caught in nostalgia. For once, animosity may make way for empathy when Manchester United face Arsenal. It would probably be apt as two clubs that withstood the rise of football's unforgiving order pay tribute to the last of their kinds.
With the final chapter of this great rivalry in this era in the offing, here is a look at two of the Premier League's longest serving managers and how their achievements stack up against one another.
Both Wenger and Ferguson managed their respective clubs for over 1000 games. However, the United boss has a greater win percentage (61.95 - 57.97) when compared to the Arsenal gaffer. Out of the 1209 matches that Ferguson managed at the Old Trafford club, he won 749 and lost 208. Meanwhile, Wenger has won 694 out of the 1197 he has been in charge of the north London side so far.
In the Premier League, Ferguson has a win percentage of 65.18 compared to 57.52 that of Wenger. In Europe too, the Scot scores over the Frenchman with a win percentage of 52.06 that is almost 3 percent more than Wenger.
In their personal head-to-head, Ferguson has a slight upper hand, having emerged on the winning side on 23 of the 49 occasions the two managerial stalwarts crossed swords in all competitions.
In terms of impact Wenger was quicker to his first major trophy than Ferguson. Unlike the Scot, the Frenchman needed just 18 months to lift his first Premier League title and immediately followed that up with a FA Cup, thus becoming the first foreign manager to win the league and cup double.
Ferguson won his first major trophy in his fifth season in charge of the club. While the Gunners boss oversaw improvement almost immediately, the United manager overcame many lows before getting hands on his first silverware. At the start of the triumphant 1991 FA Cup campaign, many journalists and fans felt United needed to change their manager to progress. However, the FA Cup triumph in 1991 was the beginning of a glorious era at Old Trafford.
Wenger also got Arsenal playing a more attractive brand of football and his teams were a stark contrast from the "1-0 to the Arsenal" side that characterised the club.
So in terms of achievements and style of play, Wenger made a bigger impact, but it has to be noted that he inherited a much stable and strong Arsenal side, than what Ferguson did. The Scot took United from relegation strugglers to FA Cup winners within five years, but moreover established a strong ecosystem for sustained success by completely revamping the club's coaching and scouting systems.
Wenger too made revolutionary changes to Arsenal's training regimes and diet that had a direct impact on their game. The Frenchman's methods were widely appreciated and eventually accepted as norm. Wenger is credited with abolishing the drinking culture in English football, that helped the nation's clubs compete with its European counterparts in a better way in future and also enhance the overall standard of the English league.
So on this front, Wenger probably edges Ferguson but only by the very skin of the teeth.
After making a mark in their initial years, Ferguson and Wenger fared very differently in the years the two consolidated themselves at their respective clubs for the long haul. While the former Aberdeen manager never looked back after winning his first league title in 1992, Wenger's Arsenal were inconsistent. They blew hot and cold in the years after their first league victory under Wenger.
The title success of 'The Invincibles' in 2004 was the epitome of Frenchman's coaching abilities, but Ferguson was able to deliver success on a more regular basis in almost equally spectacular fashion. Under the Scot, United thrice won three back-to-back titles and it only once went through a prolonged period without the champions' crown from 2003 to 2007.
Wenger threw the first challenge to Ferguson's United juggernaut but he almost immediately found an answer, winning their title back in 1999. Similarly, when Jose Mourinho threatened to alter the pecking order in English football with his ruthlessly efficient Chelsea side, Ferguson was able to find a way to be a champion again.
After 2004, when Mourinho's ways changed the Premier League just like it did with Wenger's arrival, the Frenchman failed to produce a counter force, the way Ferguson did in 2007.
While Wenger played a key role in managing the financial status of the club during its move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium, Wenger's methods didn't quite get a similar upgrade. His reluctance to mend his methods that he had deep faith in meant the club lost its winning edge in the late noughties.
On the other hand, Ferguson established perhaps his finest United side around the same time that didn't just overpower Wenger's Arsenal but also outclassed and outshone it. The very last priced asset of Wenger's management that was his unique and attractive style of play, was bettered by Ferguson's United and Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.
Arsenal failed to win a single trophy between 2005 and 2015 — a period wherein Ferguson's United won 5 Premier League titles, a Champions League title and two League Cups.
It was during these years Ferguson distinguished himself from Wenger as he adapted to every challenge that was thrown at him before overcoming it. The Frenchman failed to do so.
On this front — the most important parameter in football — there is literally no comparison between Wenger and Fergsuon. The Scot won 13 league titles compared to Wenger's 3, 2 Champions Leagues and four league cups. Wenger only trumps Scot in the FA Cup winners' medals which the Frenchman has 7 in comparison to Ferguson's 5.
But the overall trophy count heavily favours Ferguson.
Transfers and youth policy
Both Wenger and Ferguson were to an extent similar in the way they dealt with recruitment. However, in their respective tenures, Wenger bought more players (104-98) compared to Ferguson despite spending 5 years less in the role.
The Frenchman spent £8 million per player on an average during his time compared to £7.4 million per player that Ferguson spent on his. However, if you compare money spent by each manager per trophy won, the former United boss fares so much better.
Both managers had a great eye for talent. Their careers were characterised by making the most of a talent. Ferguson unearthed and nurtured the 'Class of 92', while Wenger produced gems like Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Patrick Viera and Robin van Persie.
However, Ferguson scored better in managing these players post their primes and still made use of the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Wenger on the other hand, decided to move on his priced assets, initially due to an age policy and later for financial needs.
The 'Class of 92' almost went out with Ferguson, but Wenger's best men had all departed and become winners elsewhere before he could call it a day.
Wenger gave Premier League debuts to 132 different Arsenal players, out of which 49 players were below the age of 20. Ferguson meanwhile gave league debuts to 116 United players, 36 out of which were teenagers. So the Arsenal boss placed slightly greater emphasis on youth compared to the former United manager.
However, United managed to make most of those teenage debutants that included the likes of David Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Gary Neville, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and Phil Neville. All these players won big trophies at United.
However, for Arsenal, the best among Arsenal's teenage debutants, Cesc Fabregas, Ashley Cole, Gael Clichy, Alex Song won more playing for other clubs in a shorter span than playing for Arsenal.
There is little that makes a case for Wenger to be considered on the same pedestal as Ferguson on most parameters apart from longevity. But it is difficult to ignore Wenger's contribution to the Gunners beyond the confines of a football coach. He was the heartbeat of the club for 22 years and in that time he did take the club forward. So his legacy in north London is undeniable.
There will be very few coaches who can better Ferguson's records and being second best to him is no shame. The Scot remains the best manager to ever grace the Premier League era and is likely to remain so till eternity.
Wenger may not be looked at in the same light as Ferguson, but their commitment, loyalty, and incessant hunger for excellence will remain unparalleled.
In modern-day football, eclipsing a Ferguson or Wenger may be out of reach for any manager, but if one tries with the child-like passion of a Ferguson and with the commitment and sincerity of Wenger, even 20 odd years can be a short period of time.
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Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 21:02:40 IST