Twenty-two years. Over 1200 competitive fixtures in charge. Arsene Wenger’s upcoming departure from the manager’s throne at Arsenal truly marks the end of an era for the North London club, a remarkable part of whose modern history has been shaped up by the Frenchman.
It seems a lifetime ago — when Bryan Adams’ soulful crooning was the rage among the masses, when crime thrillers like Fargo were the flavour of the day, when JK Rowling was yet to publish her first manuscript of Harry Potter — when the lanky Frenchman with a brooding smile first arrived in England with his distinct set of ideals about the beautiful game and innovative concepts of merging science into every aspect of football.
Times may have changed in English football, but there is a genuine atmosphere of sadness in the pubs and on the streets, on social media and print media as the news of Wenger stepping down spread among football fans.
During his time in England, Wenger has been revered and ridiculed, his ideology of building a Premier League squad worshipped as well as disputed. While his methodologies have been studied extensively by coaches across the globe, the fervent debate among zealous Arsenal supporters in recent years has been mostly concerned about whether it is time for the Professor to move on.
As Arthur Miller once wrote, “An era can be said to end, when its basic illusions are exhausted.” Wenger may have stumbled while navigating through the current tide of big-money spendings and expensive transfer outlays, but there is no denying that Wenger with his stellar and unique record of managing the ‘Class of Invincibles’ as well as guiding Arsenal to UEFA Champions League qualification in every single season until the last one, with his overseeing of the club through a difficult financial period when they moved from Highbury to the Emirates, all the while staying true to his captivating brand of football amidst the ruthless English football structure is symbolic of the romanticism Arsenal and Premier League football fans in general have come to associate with the 68-year-old.
However, even the staunchest of Wenger’s supporters would admit now is the time to move on — for the Frenchman has done all he could for the club he has grown to love. The managerial position at Arsenal might have started as just another job for Wenger after his experience in Japan, but it has been more than that for over a decade now. Wenger was instrumental in helping Arsenal attain an elite status among the European clubs, and his stepping down at this juncture is equally relevant for the Gunners to find a new direction and not fall behind, especially when the course of European football is changing dynamically, when managers like Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri are bringing their own philosophies to life in various corners of the continent.
With the FIFA World Cup barely months away, following which many teams (clubs and countries) will sport a new look, Wenger could find a new challenge, an even more promising one than his time at Arsenal, at the helm of a nation. Speculations have already started about the France job being available after the 2018 FIFA World Cup with the dwindling confidence in Didier Deschamps after the Les Bleus’ recent missteps on the international stage.
In the recent seasons, expectations and accusations have somewhat bogged down the idealist in Wenger, the maverick manager who introduced broccoli instead of steaks for team lunches in an era when the concept of diet was unheard of in football. A fresh challenge, a new job, especially if Wenger chooses to take up a managerial post for a national team, will not only allow him to mould the team solely based on his desired fundamentals, but also give him some reprieve from the immense pressure he has found himself under in the last couple of years.
It may be difficult for a young football fan to fathom Wenger’s profound impact on the way football is played in the top English divisions nowadays, with the dry spells in terms of silverware maligning his reputation, but Wenger’s legacy as a Premier League manager, his footprint in Arsenal’s glorious history is indelible.
Renowned football writer and coach Omar Saleem once hailed Wenger as “the man who came from nowhere to make enemies, underachieve in his haul of trophies, but completely alter what was possible in English football.”
There would never be another Wenger, especially now when the average tenure of a Premier League manager is less than two seasons. There would never be another Wenger, for many others may share his love for football, but only a few can stick to their utopian vision in face of adversities and denunciations.
Au revoir, Arsene!
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Updated Date: Apr 21, 2018 17:02:21 IST