Sports / In-Depth
Friday, 20 May 2016 14:02 EATamondigovan@gmail.com
When Arsene Wenger first arrived in England from Nagoya Grampus Eight, not many English football commentators had heard of him. The well known Frenchman has revolutionised the game in England with his influence being felt beyond his club.
By dint of their successive disappointment in losing the league after months of topping the charts, some Arsenal fans have recently been calling for the Frenchman’s resignation claiming he has underperformed considering resources at his disposal.
These calls sometimes ignore Wenger’s contributions in the past. We will have a look at some of the ways the man from Strasbourg, France, has transformed the game, contributions that will definitely outlast him at Arsenal.
Wenger opened doors for foreign managers. Being one of the first managers to arrive in England, Wenger’s success had a big influence on British clubs. Today, there are only six British managers in the top flight with only three of this being English.
Compared to other countries in Europe, the difference is quite staggering. For example in the Serie A, 18 of the 20 managers are Italian. In Spain’s La Liga, 11 out of 18 are Spanish, and 11 out of 18 in the Bundesliga are German.
Wenger introducing new eating habits. Once he arrived at Arsenal, alcohol was greatly discouraged. Wenger once said, “The whole way of life there is linked to health.” His recommended diet is basically boiled vegetables, fish and rice. No fat, no sugar. “I think in England you eat too much meat and not enough vegetables”, he said. It is Wenger’s belief that proper diet has an impact on the longevity of an athlete’s career.
Wenger is not all about money. Although it has been a while since he has guided his team to the title, Wenger has proved that money is not the only factor to performing at the top level. He prefers to mould players rather than buy ready talent. His eye for a bargain has been unmatched.
He bought players like Thierry Henry (£10.5M), Kolo Toure (£500,000), Cesc Fabregas (free transfer) to Arsenal. In recent years teams such as Liverpool and most recently Manchester United, have spent more money than Arsenal but have been unable to get into the top four while Wenger has been consistent in qualifying for the Champion’s League.
Wenger is an internationalist. When he arrived in England, the team that he inherited from George Graham had a majority of England nationals. Fast forward almost a decade later, the team that eliminated Real Madrid at the Barnabeu in the quarterfinal of the Champions League had no Englishman on the pitch.
He was the first manager of a top club in England to include a large number of Black players in the team. Despite the recognition of talent among dozens of Black players in England since the 70s, some of them born of immigrant parents, managers like Ferguson of Manchester United would either ignore the blacks or have a token one or two to fend off claims of racism.
Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for 19 consecutive seasons under Wenger. This is no mean feat. Arsenal have been the only team which have been able to qualify for the top European competition 19 consecutive seasons. Even with the coming of billionaire owners into the Premier League and despite the financial problems which came with building the Emirates Stadium, Wenger has been able to keep his team in the top four.
Wenger emphasises youth development. He never shies away from fielding young stars. He has given debuts to teenagers who later on had fantastic careers. This has influenced other managers too. Tottenham Hotspurs for example had the youngest team this season, and they played arguably the most attractive football.
With the problems Manchester United are facing since Alex Ferguson retired, maybe the Gunners fans should hold their horses; the grass is not always greener on the other side.
The writer is a trained journalist and lover of football currently working for a management company in Nairobi