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What if: Arsene Wenger had joined Manchester United instead of Arsenal

The Arsenal board looked at Wenger in 1996 and told themselves, "no, he is too inexperienced." Welcome to our alternate What-If world.


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Arsene Wenger

In August 1996, Arsenal sacked manager Bruce Rioch after just 61 weeks in charge. Rioch’s position had become untenable after a dispute with the board over transfers, and his fractious relationship with vice chairman David Dein didn’t help either. Among the names that popped up as his rumoured replacement was Johan Cruyff, who had stepped down as the most successful manager in Barcelona’s history.

There was the mention of a certain Arsene Wenger in the gossip columns as well, a Frenchman who was managing Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan at the time. No prizes for guessing who the club fans preferred among the two.

5 years later in 2001, Ferguson sent shockwaves through the United hierarchy when he suddenly announced his decision to sever all ties with the club when his contract ended the following year. The club swiftly set about trying to identify a suitable successor. United solicitor and Old Trafford director at the time Maurice Watkins would later reveal how close United came to appointing Ferguson’s successor. “It was pretty close! We are certainly not talking weeks. It was that well advanced !”

We all know what happened next in the respective stories – Arsenal would go on to appoint Wenger despite headlines like “Arsene Who?”, and a phone call from Ferguson to Watkins would change everything. Ferguson decided to take a U-turn on his retirement decision; his family had convinced him to remain in charge of United. Plus, he needed to save United’s season after a terrible start.

In this edition of our What If series, we take a look at an alternate football world. One where the Arsenal board thought better of appointing an unknown French man from Japanese League. One where Ferguson did not go back on his retirement decision. One where the same Frenchman, who had made his name by the time another opportunity opened up for him on English shores, jumped and grabbed it.

Here we examine what the world of football would have been like if Arsene Wenger had joined Manchester United instead of Arsenal:

#1 David Beckham would have stayed at Manchester United


Beckham's relations with Ferguson broke down after 2000
Beckham's relations with Ferguson broke down after 2000

Part of the famous Class of 92 alongside Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, Beckham seemed destined to be a Manchester United legend. He absolutely loved the club; he was a fan favourite, a fashion icon, and a serial winner. Oh, and he was quite good at football, too.

But it wasn’t to be – his relationship with Ferguson strained after 2000, and the final straw came after United’s 2003 FA Cup defeat against Arsenal when Ferguson kicked a boot at the midfielder’s head causing a gash above his eye. Ferguson was annoyed with Beckham’s life off the field; his obsession with fame and following, and the consequently perceived lack of commitment. 

He was eventually sold to Real Madrid in the summer of 2003. Beckham later revealed he never wanted to leave the club and would have happily retired at Old Trafford. “I didn’t watch Manchester United for 3 years after that,” Beckham said. “I would never have left.”

Indeed, he never left in our world. With Arsene Wenger as the new Manchester United manager, Beckham rebuilt his relations with the club hierarchy and went on to stay at Manchester United for another decade. After a well-deserved testimonial, he left the Old Trafford pitch for one last time to thunderous applause from the club faithful.

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