How much has Arsene Wenger sacrificed for Arsenal?
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
? William Blake
Wise words from the posthumously renowned English poet and painter. Altruism, in the truest sense of the definition of the word, does not exist as there is almost always an element of self-interest in any altruistic act.
On Saturday, after a tortuous first 9 minutes where Arsenal’s FA Cup dream looked like our worst nightmare, Wenger and his boys lifted Arsenal’s first trophy in 9 years in what many hope is the foundation of a new period of dominance.
For me, it was the culmination of a difficult, but ultimately necessary, period in Arsenal’s recent history in an effort to set the club up for decades to come. It was just deserts for Arsenal and for Wenger. Ultimately they fell short in the league again but the manner in which the club has operated whilst many sold out to rich benefactors and the quality the team displayed before being decimated by injury deserved a trophy.
In the history of this great club 9 years without a trophy is but a blink – especially when compared to other barren periods – but if we are honest, the last 9 years hasn’t been about Arsenal; it has been about Wenger.
It has been Wenger who has gone 9 years without a trophy and how sweet it must feel for him to be a champion again.
I must admit that there were periods I doubted whether he could take us forward – don’t get me wrong, I have always had great affection for the man – and even his biggest fans realise he cannot go on forever and his tenure at Arsenal will come to a natural end at some point. Certain results this season maybe made quite a few people think that time was coming sooner rather than later.
Throughout all of our difficulties I have never lost sight of what Wenger has given to us and that is why I have always felt a little dirty in those weak moments when I thought that maybe his time was up if he didn’t win something soon. He has probably won a few people back around with this cup triumph who promised to judge him on our successes this season and there are those who are unmoved by the shiny new cup in our trophy cabinet.
I’ve been planning to write this post for a long time, over a year in fact, but have never quite found a satisfactory narrative to express what I want to get across but this cup win has perfectly capped off the message I want to share.
I started this post with a William Blake quote and I think it encapsulates what Wenger has done for Arsenal over the past 9 years. Arsène Wenger has sacrificed a lot for Arsenal Football Club and this FA Cup is the beginning of the rewards he richly deserves.
Arsène has put the club before his own wonderful reputation and wittingly sullied his good name with a significant proportion of the Arsenal fanbase in his quest for self-sufficient success and stability.
Of course he has been handsomely paid during this time and that is why I mentioned altruism not existing but that has not been the self-serving compensation of Wenger’s sacrifice and altruism for Arsenal.
Wenger could have left Arsenal every summer over the past 9 years and still earned more elsewhere. What we have paid him has been a reasonable cost to keep a manager of that calibre as he could easily have demanded – and received – £10m a season from any top club in Europe. What many have failed to realise with Arsène is his reputation outside of the fans and a few agenda-driven media fools has mostly remained intact and his “failures” at Arsenal can be dismissed by most club owners/chairmen as a lack of investment/quality/ability to challenge big money.
A Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Monaco, PSG or City would look at Arsène and think he would be successful with the resources they have compared to Arsenal and they would get attractive football to boot.
No, Wenger’s self-serving element of his altruism was not the toothsome pay cheques from Arsenal but the freedom and trust to stick to his style of play, his development plans, his ideals and his vision.
He always knew we would have some lean years, maybe not as many as we did, and maybe saw it as a challenge. To develop a winning team and build towards a sustainable future. A few times he saw his plans pegged back by the plundering of his talent but in the end he has done it.
During a period where players were forcing their way out (even Vieira and Henry were calling Wenger regularly prior to leaving begging to be let go) in pursuit of quick fix trophies elsewhere or the “pull of home” the most loyal man of them all stood in front of the club and took every arrow aimed at the club. He allowed himself to be desecrated, his name to be dragged through the mud, his reputation to be shattered into a million pieces and the people who once loved him scream abuse feet from his face every game – all this whilst turning down the advances of wealthier clubs to stay true to Arsenal and to his vision.
The sheen and prestige of Wenger’s stature amongst Arsenal fans can never be repaired to pre-2005 levels but I think he knows that and is okay with it. At his very best I think he probably had 99% of the fans and the very best he’ll get again is maybe 80% but I believe he believes it was a sacrifice worth making.
This club has never been in such a good position and now they have recent success to build upon and a lot of thanks needs to be given to one man.
Arsène Wenger set Arsenal FC before himself and there is no act more sublime a manager can ever do.