Goodbye, Le Professeur – you will always be Arsenal Wenger
Back then, it was all about knowing the basics to cool in front of others. After running for about 30 minutes with shorts barely reaching the knees and water from runny noses flowing backwards with the air, it was time to sit down and discuss.
It was not your normal pre-teen discussions, mind, it wasn’t about whose mom was the best or whose father was the most strict as a headmaster. It was about the game that we were playing a while ago.
It was about football.
With stench from the body and naivety from the mouth, we pretended to know-it-all, like almost every other pre-teen in the world.
“Do you know Jose Mourinho is the manager of Chelsea? He just won that big title [Champions League] some months ago.”
“Yes, I know!
“No, you didn’t!”
“Then tell me who the manager of Arsenal is?”
“It is Arsene.”
“Yes, I know, the club is named after him, that’s why I said it that way.”
Mr. Arsenal Wenger
Almost every kid born in the 90s must have thought for at least once in their lives that Arsenal were named after Wenger.
The uncanny resemblance in the names of the two might not have been a coincidence after all.
For the sake of a beautiful narrative, let us pretend that it is not.
When he came to Highbury, Arsenal were a club in need of an identity. A George Graham politician impression and Bruce Rioch dispute later, the club into a sea of quagmire and looked to Wenger to steady the waters.
A lazy Google search will reveal his accolades at the club but his importance can never truly be understood like that. What he gave Arsenal – and to football in general – is something words can never truly divulge.
What he took away from Arsenal – and himself – however, can’t be disclosed by the extensive usage the English vocabulary either.
It was not that Arsenal were a small club before his arrival. They had already won the First Division – now known as the Premier League – 10 times before his arrival. Wenger added only three more.
It is in the FA Cup where he truly stamped his mark. With seven titles to his name, he is the manager with the most FA Cup wins to his name.
However, his legacy at the club transcends the trophies that he won at his time with the Gunners.
From “boring, boring Arsenal,” they became one of the most fluid teams Europe after his arrival. He also played a huge role in the hyperbolic influx of foreign players in the competition.
The season before his arrival, the Premier League consisted of 36.4% foreign players. In 1996-97, his first on English soil, the percentage rose to 44.3 % and by the time he won the season as the Invincibles in 2003-2004, the league had 63.3%, non-English players.
His policy of trusting the youth over spending bucket-loads of cash also inspired a lot of managers. This ideology played a massive part in Arsenal being able to move to the Emirates from Highbury.
In the end, however, this was also one of the reasons for his downfall.
Time changes everything. When Wenger took over Arsenal, they were only but a baby. He moulded them into an adult but forgot to treat them like one.
As a result, they behaved like a confused teenager who was completely unsatisfied with life and always thought of her/himself as incompetent.
When the others were strengthening and buffing up with protein shakes and steroid, Arsenal were still being fed Cerelac.
As a result, they were never good enough and couldn’t compete with the others in the class.
Wenger’s stubbornness to stick with his policy of trusting the youth of making big-money signings ensured that Arsenal always played catch-up.
He might have changed himself a bit and made some star acquisitions towards the end, but they were a little too late.
This resulted in Wenger tarnishing his own legacy at the club. For the younger fans, he will always be a specialist in failure, who couldn’t inspire the club to the glory in their young lifetimes.
When you watch “Wenger Out” signs during cricket games in Australia’s tour of South Africa, you know that things have gotten a little too ugly for anyone’s liking.
There is a saying in Bengali that when you squeeze a lemon for too long, it becomes overly sour and, subsequently, impossible to be taken with the diet. With Wenger, something similar happened as he just kept sticking to the club.
It was understandable. He wanted to leave on a high, give them the one last hurrah of glory before he bids adieu and fades into the mist with a cigar in his mouth and a cowboy hat on his head.
But it never happened. And it never will. And it took Wenger too long to realise that.
In the end, he not only hampered the club but his own legacy.
He will always be Arsenal Wenger
Even then, however, Arsenal fans will miss him once he is gone. Now that he has announced his resignation from the club at the end of the season, the ones that wanted him out are perhaps breathing a huge sigh of relief.
But even in that sigh of supposed respite, there is always going to be despair. As much as they wanted him out, most of them wanted him to be happy and on top when he waved goodbye to Arsenal, like Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Most of them wanted him to win the Premier League or Champions League in his final days at the club. While the majority of the Arsenal fanbase might have wanted him out, they will always live with the regret of seeing Wenger leave in this fashion.
Nothing would have made them happier than seeing Wenger lift the Premier League with captain Per Mertesacker.
Nothing would have made them happier than seeing Le Professeur with a huge radiant smile on his face while tears of joy rolled down his cheeks as he held the Premier League trophy to his chest like a mother does after finding her long-lost child.
Nothing. Because no matter what bad had happened in his tenure, he is always going to be Arsenal Wenger.