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Thursday, April 17, 2014

An Ode to Monsieur Wenger



I’m an Arsenal fan because of my grandfather. You see,  when Grandpa came to England in the 50s to earn his law degree, his guardian happened to be a regular at Highbury. Grandpa was taken along on that trip a couple of times too. It also helped that as soon as I became interested in football, Kanu Nwankwo (the most important Nigerian footballer at the time) happened to be a Gunner. A lot of my greatest memories hinge around football and by extension one man. His name is Arsene Wenger.
Monsieur Wenger is the only Arsenal manager I’ve ever known. He has shown himself to a be a genius, albeit a flawed one but I know no better. And as I watch David Moyes tear up Old Trafford, I’m not sure I want to know anything else. Along with Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger is one of the last greats. You recall that Pep Guardiola, the finest manager of his generation left Barcelona as he felt the power of his voice was on the wane and he would struggle to inspire his troops. The consistency is unparalled. Always in the top 4 and Champions League. For what it’s worth, the seasons before his arrival Arsenal had come 10th, 4th, 12th and 5th. 1,000 games in and Wenger is leading his team on a subdued title charge. The sense of entitlement Arsenal fans feel to win trophies is due to him.  In fact, at a point this season his tenure at Arsenal was more than that of the other 19 managers in the League cumulatively. That is worthy of adulation.

When you picture the managerial dynasties of Wenger and Ferguson, one thing must be noted: The manner in which they reinvented their clubs and made themselves indispensable. Managers aren’t designed as such. Actually, they are the most dispensable components in the football hierarchy. Club chairmen always think they’re doing a great job (Daniel Levy, a case in point). The players cannot all be sold so when teams struggle, the Manager is the first to go. Wenger and Ferguson took a top- bottom approach and were able to build the image of their clubs to mirror reflections of themselves. In an era with the growing influence of director of footballs, laptop managers and what Joe Royle describes simply as “everything becoming departmentalized”, the two men have shown themselves to be untouchable forces.  The men who control Arsenal are so awestruck by Wenger (likewise the Glazers with Ferguson) because they are fully cognizant of the resources at his disposal and how he outperforms them. They see the vision he has laid bare at Arsenal in taking them from a style that was more a fusion of Sam Allardyce and Jose Mourinho’s styles to the byword for beautiful football in this part of the world and understand that he is worth sticking with. Barcelona lite, we call(ed) them. The training facilities have improved rapidly under him and he widened the scope of the club. He’s an ideologue who takes his word as his bond. In football, contracts are pretty much a formality and are regularly disrespected but Mr Wenger insists that he’ll never break a contract. When he first got signed out to join Arsenal, his move was delayed so his contract would expire. He’s the sane man in the mad house. That is worthy of adulation.

Arsene Wenger is better than you. All of you. He gave me Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas. He gave me the very amusing character that is Jens Lehmann. He created the environment that brought in Jack Wilshere. He took a chance on Kanu, after he had been out of the game to deal with his heart ailment. Thank sweet baby Jesus that Kanu proved he was right with that Chelsea hat trick. He gave me the pleasure of boasting about never being beaten in a season.  That is worthy of adulation.

I’m a lucky boy. As a result of my devotion to Arsenal I’ve had a minute with some of the greats I adored; Tony Adams’ autobiography was the second football book (Oddly, Roy Keane’s was the first) I ever read. My Grandfather gave it to me in the summer of 2003. Ray Parlour made me jump for joy when he scored that amazing goal in the FA Cup final against Chelsea. Theo Walcott made me happy to pick the right team when he led that comeback against Barcelona. Five years ago, when I moved to England I was given ‘It’s a Perry Groves’ World’ and I enjoyed brushing up my knowledge of one of the cult heroes. The 10 seconds I got with Mr Wenger remain the best. I have told that story endlessly as it’s something I had always dreamt of. Like, “If I meet Kanye West or Arsene Wenger, how would I act?” At the time, I wrote of the experience.  My lasting memory of him was the whiff of his musk I got. Pause. When you meet your heroes, the weirdest things are what last. Pause. And he shook my hand. The fact that it was at an U 21 game tells you all you need to know: He is committed to Arsenal and every bit of it. That is worthy of adulation.

That’s not to say all the days have been good. That 8-2 at Old Trafford would never be forgotten. The 2011 League Cup final against Birmingham was heart wrenching. The meltdown from the Eduardo game at Birmingham some years before that helped propagate the ‘Arsenal collapse in February’ myth was another low point. Then there have been the sales of key players to rivals’ which always caused anguish. But he’s stuck through and it’s always been obvious that the minor regression was mitigated by the fact that there had been a change of philosophy in the wake of the move to the Emirates. Our day would come again. I have no doubt about it. I hope the gods of football bless us with something this season. Arsene, you deserve it.

Thank you, Arsene. Specialist in adulation.

My Wenger XI:
Seaman
- Sagna- Campbell-Adams- Cole-
-Vieira- Fabregas-
-Walcott- Bergkamp- Pires-
Henry
Subs: Lehmann, Mertesacker, Parlour, Gilberto Silva, Overmars, van Persie, Wright.

Published on Culture Custodian

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