END OF AN ERA: MERCI ARSENE
On the 20th of April 2018, the football world woke up to the shocking news of the exit of Arsene Wenger from Arsenal Football Club. Not too many of the fans expected this to happen so quickly though they had clamoured for it for some time. The exit clock had been ticking for the ‘Professor’ climaxed by lacklustre performance of the last few years of his being on the saddle and the attendant non-qualification for the prestigious Champions League in the past two seasons. The fans mounted due pressure on the club to sack him through various means and this was climaxed by their not showing up for games at the Emirates stadium!
Since the announcement of his exit plan, speculations have been rife on so many fronts on why he stepped down; was he sacked or was he forced to resign? Whatever may have transpired between the Board and Arsene behind closed doors remains shrouded in secrecy but the announcement that morning was made by Wenger who said “After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season. I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity….”
Sacked or forced to resign, Wenger’s legacies which spanned a period of 22 years indeed changed the face of Arsenal and English football. On his arrival in Highbury in September 1996, the question on the lips of fans and the English public was “Arsene who?”. He was unknown, having spent the two previous seasons in Japan and also managed the French side of Monaco earlier on. Skepticism was at its peak and the football public believed he was going nowhere.
However, he went to work by making revolutionary changes at the club that transformed the club. Players diet were changed and they were now encouraged to eat healthier offerings. Alcohol was banned in the dressing room and players were stopped from eating chocolates altogether. In their opinion then, the new coach was clearly not cut out to survive that season but the changes started paying off in no distant time. At the close of the first season (97-98) that he was fully in charge, he won the prestigious double in the league and FA Cup. He believed in wining and winning beautifully by the free-flowing style of football he encouraged the team to play.
The invincibles had emerged as at 2004 under him. It was certainly the most iconic moment that the London club had ever witnessed. They played in the league without losing a single game. Arsenal was reputed for not buying superstars but buying young players and turning them into superstars through the deft handling of Wenger. They said he was not just the coach but a father figure to them. Thierry Henry is a clear example. So many of our African compatriots also played under Wenger. Nwankwo Kanu, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, Emmanuel Adebayor, etc. They all went on to become world class players and represented their respective countries on the world stage.
Team Arsenal’s worst spell since the 1960s was recorded between 2005 to 2014. The chief cause was economic. The movement from their Highbury home (capacity: 38,400) and to a new modern stadium with 60,000 seats, costing £400 million, set a downturn in Arsenal’s fortunes on the pitch. Wenger being the prudent manager that he is, during these belt-tightening years, still succeeded in managing the global brand that the club represents currently. He kept them in the Champions League and he worked off a large part of the debt by auctioning his best players. He had the great support of the club board.
His success with this great club on and off the field speaks volumes of his loyalty, stature and integrity. He won a total of 3 Premier League titles, a record-breaking 7 FA Cups, 7 Community Shields and the 1998 World Manager of the Year in his 22-year reign of almost undaunted achievement. Majority owner Stan Kroenke said of his exit: “This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport. One of the main reasons we got involved with Arsenal was because of what Arsène has brought to the club on and off the pitch. His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched…”
The honour and accolades he received at the Emirates and the other different stadia while signing off for the season is a testament of his love and commitment to the game. Particularly most significant is the way he was honored at Old Trafford by some of his greatest foes, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.
MERCI ARSENE!!! THANK YOU.