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20th Apr 2018

Classic Arsenal story proves that Arsene Wenger was once a managerial genius


Robert Redmond

Arsene Wenger has announced that he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season.

Wenger will walk away from the club after 22 years and will be remembered as the best manager in the Arsenal’s history. He had 12-months remaining on his contract, signed last summer, but reports claim he has stepped down before the club took the decision to sack him.

After achieving so much for the Gunners, despite relative stagnation in recent seasons, Wenger deserves to leave on his own terms. He may no longer be the manager he once was, but he built some of the best sides ever witnessed in English football and maintained his dignity throughout the team’s decline.

Wenger had the opportunity to be the manager of any club he wanted in world football – even Manchester United sounded him out about succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson – but he remained loyal to the Gunners. He guided Arsenal to 17 trophies, including three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, and managed the team to an unbeaten season in the 2003/04 campaign. His success may never be bettered at the Emirates.

Arsenal’s slide in mediocrity shouldn’t overshadow how brilliant Wenger once was, or how he helped change English football. Arsenal’s rivalry with United was the Premier League at its absolute pinnacle and if it wasn’t for the injection of petrodollars into English football, there’s a chance the two teams would still be top dogs.

He was ahead of the competition when it came to identifying and developing talent and it’s difficult to find a former player who doesn’t hold Wenger in the highest esteem.

A story from the brilliant book, The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines, by Michael Cox, perfectly sums up Wenger’s genius in his early years at Arsenal.

Back in 1999, the season after Arsenal had won the league and FA Cup double, Wenger had a problem on his hands, as two of his best players weren’t getting along.

Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp, were key members of Wenger’s first great Arsenal team, but Anelka had an issue with Overmars.

Anelka felt that the Dutch winger was ignoring him and choosing to pass to Bergkamp instead and complained about it in public.

“‘I’m not getting enough of the ball,’ he muttered to the French press. ‘I’m going to see the manager soon because Overmars is too selfish’.”

However, Wenger found a way to resolve the dispute between the pair and ensure team harmony was maintained when he called both men into his office for talks.

“The complication, however, was that Anelka barely spoke English and Overmars didn’t understand French, so Wenger was not only moderator but also interpreter, and played the situation beautifully,” Cox writes.

“He asked the two players to spell out their issues; Anelka repeated his complaint to Wenger in their native tongue, while in English, Overmars claimed he always looked out for Anelka’s runs and didn’t understand his problem.

“Rather than translating their comments accurately, Wenger simply told Overmars that Anelka had said he no longer had a problem, then told Anelka that Overmars was promising to pass more. Both were lies, but it temporarily resolved the situation.”

Wenger played the situation perfectly and got the best out of both players during their time at Arsenal. Anelka left at the end of that season, joining Real Madrid for £23m. The following year, Overmars joined Barcelona for £25m.

Wenger’s first great team was broken up, but he led Arsenal to greater success with his double-winning team in 2002 and then the Invincibles in 2004.