Arsène Wenger: Legend
Last Friday, I woke up and flipped open my email to a thunderbolt of a message from my colleague and fellow Gooner, Gavin:
BREAKING NEWS: WENGER LEAVING AT END OF SEASON
If I felt any residual grogginess, it was shaken out of me immediately as I experienced a surge of (mixed) emotions.
The news of his departure wasn't - in an overall sense - a surprise, but the timing of it absolutely was. He had one year left on his contract and as a man famous for respecting his contracts, he steadfastly maintained that he would see it through.
But the club's performances in recent seasons and in particular, this one, had led to the most serious fan discontent that I have ever seen (in more than 4 decades of supporting the club). Once an “invincible” football coach, he had, in recent years, been unable to scale the same heights, for many different reasons (some down to him, some not).
Inevitably, the discontent was too much and he made the decision to leave at the end of this season. On his own terms.
For fans of the club, the decision was met with relief (many, if not most, felt it was time for a change), a profound sense of sadness at the end of this great man’s reign, but also immense gratitude.
The fact of the matter is, we will never see a man of his ilk again in our footballing lifetimes. A man of such strong values, devotion, and positivity. A legend amongst not simply footballers, but a leader in the broadest sense of the word.
An economist by training, Wenger joined Arsenal in 1996 and brought a level of intelligence and insight into the game, in human relationships and life in general that is unparalleled.
From a football perspective, he gave us trophies, amazing players, and beautiful attacking football, the likes of which the Premier League had never quite seen.
He oversaw our new stadium, overhauled how players trained and ate, revamped our training facilities and created a truly world class club. His model was quickly copied by clubs across England.
He was also a man of unwavering loyalty. He stuck by Arsenal even when the biggest clubs in the world came calling for him. Because he believed in our values, in what the club stood for.
Wenger shepherded us through more than a decade of relative austerity, in which he maintained fiscal prudence as we paid for the stadium, worked with what little money was available to him and ensured Champions League football, year over year.
I love the man. I love what he has done for us. I love what he has stood for.
He’s an idealist.
He’s an optimist.
He’s a believer.
He aspired to integrate art into his football, always pursuing positive, attacking football, the beautiful game
He always maintained faith in his people, identifying their strengths and giving them the freedom to flourish on their own terms.
He retained a positive, optimistic outlook, that it is all in our own hands, that we control our destinies, and that we look no further than ourselves - that we believe in ourselves - and we will succeed.
There will never be a manager like him again. Not for us, not for anyone else.
I realize I’m speaking through rose tinted glasses and on somewhat biased terms. In the words of Wenger himself, we always feel we have “the prettiest wife at home”.
But we Arsenal supporters did. We really did.
There’s something about this man. This man who appeared out of nowhere with the strange glasses, his gentle manner and his funny name. Despite our recent troubles, we should all be grateful for what he has given us. The memories, the players, the stadium, the ethos. For the gift that has been Arsène Wenger.
We will miss you, Boss.