There are many Arsenal fans, even those who ‘hate’ Arsene Wenger, who will reluctantly agree, when pressed, that he was — note the past tense – once a great manager.
This admission will always be immediately qualified by the use of such terms as ‘He was good when he first arrived, up until 2005, but he is past his best and doesn’t know how to inspire his players or, how to coach them properly, and he is clueless about tactics’. Yada, yada, yada.
Comparisons are also frequently made between Wenger and famous managers of the past or, rather more gallingly, with contemporary managers like Ferguson and Moaniho.
So, fair enough, let’s look at a fantastic Arsenal manager of the early part of the last century, Herbert Chapman, and see if there are any parallels that may help us decide if Wenger’s reputation suffers by comparison.
It is simply invidious, and unfair, to try and directly compare athletes or footballers of bygone eras with those of modern times. Human beings, generally, have grown bigger and stronger because food and sustenance is in plentiful supply, and medicine has improved hugely with micro-surgery available to combat career threatening injuries of great sportsmen and women, and prescription drugs have been developed to help keep us all fit and healthy, compared to those living in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when hunger and deprivation were the lot of many unfortunate people.
That said, perhaps it is possible, none-the-less, to compare the circumstances under which Chapman operated, and see if there are any pointers that we can discern which would usefully highlight any similarities or discrepancies between the modus operandi of the two managers, despite the different eras in which they worked.
A useful starting place is the 1925-26 season when Arsenal finished a creditable second in the old First Division.
It is well known, that Henry Norris a notorious tight arse, had previously advertised for a manager with the infamous rider declaring that applicant wishing to spend money on purchasing players ‘need not apply’.
As a consequence, after his appointment, Chapman was unable to spend to strengthen the side he had inherited, and had to watch as Arsenal only managed to finish eleventh in the League.
Nevertheless, Chapman gained a wonderful reputation for tactical innovation, and introduced the world famous ‘WM’ formation for setting up his team, coupled with devastating counter attacking play.
This tactical innovation depended upon the abilities of ‘world class’ players such as Alex James, David Jack, Joe Hume, Cliff Bastin, and Jack Lambert, the Messi, Ronaldo Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamps of that long ago era.
Before long, this combination of lateral tactical thinking combined with some of the best players ever to grace the Arsenal, whatever the era, started to produce fantastic results, and trophies began to flow into the Highbury cabinet room.
Sadly, at the beginning of 1934, after a short illness that many ascribed to overworking, in difficult conditions, Chapman died still yoked to the prestigious job he loved, at the club he helped make famous throughout the world, and mourned by thousands.
So, can we see a co-relation between Chapman and Wenger?
Well, both men struggled with a lack of funding, but despite that, and by using players bought cheaply, or by bringing through youth or reserve team footballers, as well as revolutionising the coaching and tactical standards of the day, they each managed to produce trophy winning teams.
In addition, many of us have been concerned with the obvious stress Wenger has suffered recently and the effect on his health is of some concern.
An additional handicap for Arsene Wenger was the building of a fabulous stadium, and the traumatic move from the famous halls of Highbury.
It is enlightening to remember that Ajax, once seen as one of the best and most successful clubs in the world, noted for producing gifted and technically advanced young trophy winning teams, moved stadiums in 1996, and have never won any tournaments since.
So what of Monsieur Wenger when compared with the best managers of the modern era?
Arsene Wenger has a vision for the style and manner of the football all his teams must strive to play, which many have come to liken to a modern day ‘Barcelona’ type.
AW believes in his vision with his whole being, and cannot encompass any other style as being worthy of any team he is associated with.
His early Arsenal career, in some ways, mirrored the Chapman era, as he was forced to develop his idyll while short of funds, and having to revolutionise the playing set up, starting with building a state of the art training facility, changing the players’ dietary regime and training methods.
These remarkable changes soon produced astounding results with trophies pouring into the Arsenal, courtesy of a fantastic scouting system which enabled the purchase of cheaply acquired ‘star’ players such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Berkamp, Patrick Viera, Robert pires and many, many more.
In recent years, consequent with the building of the new stadium, finances to purchase new talent or to replace older players have become ever more difficult to come by, and indeed many believe top players have had to be sold, allegedly, to balance the books of account, to enable the club to meet its desired aim of self sustainability.
In turn, this has led to the dimming of Wenger’s football vision of slick, passing, attacking football, for without the brilliance of the aforementioned Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp et al, the team’s results, each year since they left, have become increasingly inferior when compared with other clubs who have recruited the best players from around the world.
What then of his ‘competitor’ managers?
It cannot be denied, that, based on trophy winning, Manure also have a ‘great’ manager and his teams are said to be imbued with his fighting ‘mentality’ which is portrayed by their ability to win games with ‘late’ goals, when needed.
Umm … there is a slight flaw with that view, because they didn’t do that when they were 2:1 down against Real Madrid in the CL recently, did they? Or, let me think, what about in last year’s CL in Basle when all they needed was a draw? Noooo.
Manure has ‘earned’ that reputation mainly against ‘inferior’ opposition in the PL.
Am I being unfair? Well, I am sure he should have also been able to instil this same ‘fighting attitude’ into his players when he managed at East Stirling or St Mirren …… but hold on those clubs were not known for any such attitude, or ability for late revivals. Why?
The answer is simple, it is because he did not have the players with the wit or ability to conjure any such results, or win any trophies.
So, how do Manure, and Ferguson, get away with the unquestioning acceptance that the club and their manager have this ‘fighting ability’ which, by inference, Arsene does not have?
Again, the answer is straightforward …… Ferguson goes out every transfer window, and regularly buys outstanding, expensive, match defining and sorry did I mention ‘expensive’ players capable of producing undoubtedly stunning results, and it is this that has made his reputation.
Who were these players I am thinking of? Think Rio Ferdinand, Ruud van Nistleroy, Wayne Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo, Sheringham, RvP and a whole host of ‘cheaper’ players who are way outside Arsenal’s historical spending limits.
And Maureenio? Well suffice to say, he has only really managed and made his reputation by working for ‘money no object’ Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Buy the best (and most expensive) players, regardless of the cost, and the trophies will come looking for you.
Ask Ferguson – ask Maureen!
Give me Arsene Wenger any day of the week.
Give me a high class club, who eschew oligarchs and oily sheikhs.
Give me the Arsenal!
Written by Red Arse