It is a regretful characteristic of time that memories fade and legacies diminish. Success can only be judged in the context of the present and the tangible, while past glories drift out of consciousness, cherished but enervated. Admiration and affection subside, while animosity and apathy abounds.
And so it is that Arsene Wenger begins his Arsenal swansong. After 22 years, 3 Premier League titles and 7 FA Cup’s, the most successful manager in Arsenal’s history has called time on his reign. This is no wilful abdication on his part, rather one borne of practical reality and a recognition that the masses of fans have rebelled in a way that they never have, with their hearts, mind and voices, as they have left him gazing solemnly around a subdued and half-occupied Emirates Stadium. For “Le Professeur”, the great revolutionary that changed the shape of British football, this is a harsh and unfair fate.
Yet, with his future now defined, both those who revered him and those who came to resent him can now unite in appreciation of his vast accomplishments, many of which were not perceptible until years after the fact.
“Wenger constructed a club fit for the 21st century. He walked through the modest doors of Highbury and will leave via the vaulted modern threshold of the Emirates. There can be no greater symbolism for the impact he has had and there can be no tribute more fitting than to see the ground re-named in his honour.”
Wenger did not simply create majestic footballing sides, such as the 03/04 “Invincibles” team, his crowning jewel. He transformed attitudes and culture, from diet to philosophy, where his mark is unmistakable.
Imagine the indignation of seasoned professionals when their comforts and rituals were disturbed, from ketchup to binge-drinking, by this unassuming individual, arriving from humble managerial roots. It says much for Wenger’s personality and the respect he commanded that he could rapidly modify the British perspective on football and its organs.
Little needs to be said about the careers he built and nurtured. There can be very few figures in footballing history who have made as large a contribution to the careers of so many. The opportunities provided, the mentoring, the dedication and the unwavering loyalty is difficult to match.
It is a devastating irony that the latter of these characteristics perhaps contributed to the malaise of his concluding years but this is no criticism on his part. It is but a reminder of the class, dignity and humility with which he managed one of the largest sporting institutions in the world.
Wenger constructed a club fit for the 21st century. He walked through the modest doors of Highbury and will leave via the vaulted modern threshold of the Emirates. There can be no greater symbolism for the impact he has had and there can be no tribute more fitting than to see the ground re-named in his honour.
It is the end of an era. Arsenal’s most esteemed servant is departing. The club must decide who it will entrust with the task of renewal. For that is what it truly needs. A renaissance. It requires a pioneer, an innovator, a figure with a mind ahead of their time to arrive and propel the club into a new age. Just as Arsene Wenger did, 22 years ago.
Feature image credit: The Independent