As Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City look set to run away with this season’s Premiership crown, opinions are divided over what Arsene Wenger has described as effect of “petrol money.”
Which side of football philosophy do you identify with? Win at all costs? I mean, the end justifies the means kind of. Poach the best established players from wherever without regards to cost effectiveness as long as the trophies roll in. In this school, the shelves maybe be filled with laurels at the risk of near bankruptcy by the club owners. Two managers that are easily associated with this philosophy are Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. Yet, they are highfliers and celebrated globally.
A second school emphasizes prudent management of money, men and materials. Identifying young talents and nurturing them to greatness while keeping the account books buoyant with solid foundations. The owners and shareholders sleep with both eyes closed. But the drawback here is the absence of trophies and laurels in most cases as the investments take time to rack in trophies. One man’s name will readily come to mind here; Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal football club.
Football is no longer a game to entertain, its passion contains a language understood by diverse tongues and colours, and it now contributes to the GDP of many nations. It has become a big business and money spinner. Investors come in to make profits. How about the extra ordinary breed of gentlemen who manage the team of eleven? The Coaches, gaffers or managers, whatever name you call it? Their temperament and football philosophy most often than not defines the outcome of results on the pitch of play. The English Premier League has had great managers over the years. Apart from the legendary Sir Alex Chapman Ferguson who at the time became the longest serving and most decorated manager in the league, Arsene Wenger has now clocked 21 years at the helm. He has had several rivalries but often times his methods have come under scrutiny especially in comparism to his more successful managerial rivals in terms of trophies such as Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte of the two Manchester Clubs and Chelsea respectively. In this era in football where coaches are hired and fired with relative ease it begs the question. Why is Arsene Wenger still there? What makes his style different from the other managers mentioned above?
When Arsenal sacked Bruce Rioch in the summer of 1996, the first name on everyone’s lips as the potential successor was the legendary Johan Cruyff. It proved a non-starter, Cruyff didn’t want a manager’s job at the time and in any case Arsenal’s most influential director David Dein had set his eyes on a largely unknown Frenchman who was working in Japan, Arsene Wenger. The reaction when news finally leaked that Wenger would be given the keys to one of England’s greatest traditional football clubs was astonishment. ‘Arsene Who?’ was the general reaction. Little did they know the club was appointing the most principled coach and manager the world has seen since Cruyff.
He has not won the amount of trophies that Sir Alex Ferguson collected or the European triumphs of a Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola or Carlo Ancelotti, even though Arsene Wenger has won three Premier League titles and two league Cup doubles at the club with the Frenchman entering the history books going unbeaten in their ‘Invincibles’ 2004/2005 Premier League winning season but in 20 years he has revolutionised English football.
And English football being the market leader for any club football, the impact has been astounding. The focal point to be taken here is that Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola while being undoubtedly successful so far in Spain, Germany, Italy and now England have spent close to 2 billion pounds in player recruitment so far in their careers without a corresponding financial gain for the clubs but Arsene Wenger can be said to be the ultimate book keeper, the consummate financial administrator who is first and foremost a football coach.
No wonder many especially in Nigeria call him “The Economist.” He led the club through a very tough financial period when they embarked on the building of the Emirates Stadium, their new ground which they successfully moved into in July 2006. He continually sold high profile players to balance the books and help the club service their debt. Many of these players were even sold to direct rivals: Robin Van Persie to Manchester United, Emmanue Adebayo to Manchester City, Francesc Fabregas to Barcelona, Emmanuel Song to Barcelona, Mathieu Flamini to AC Milan and highest on the list, all time striker for the club, Thierry Henry to Barcelona.
The most profound thing was that despite selling the core of team, Arsene Wenger was still able to remain competitive, delivering Champions League football to the North London side and the Arsenal Board using the windfall derived from the Champions League and EPL, to service their debt which they are presently effective free of and recording year on year profits for the club. No wonder his contract was extended over the summer despite calls from section of the Arsenal fans to let him go.
When Arsene arrived, he came with his blueprint -Football made easy. David Dein wanted Johan Cryuff for his total football philosophy but Arsene Wenger brought far more than total football, he brought total football with its ‘sexiness.’ In fact after Barcelona, Arsenal plays the most entertaining brand of football globally loved and pleasing to the eye for the neutral. No wonder the former J-League Coach over the years had players who fit in to his style of play from Nicolas Anelka, Robert Pires, DennisBergkamp, to Cesc Fabregas, Tomasz Rosicky, Thiery Henry and others.
Diet and fitness were still seen as relatively inconsequential compared to team spirit usually fostered by mammoth boozing sessions. Wenger came in, banned Mars Bars, gave his players supplements and watched the victories and trophies roll in. No leading manager today works without a battery of sports scientists and analysts at his disposal. Wenger started it, Pep Guardiola borrowed it, Jose Mourinho tweaked it but it was all Wenger’s and the idea that young overseas players could come to England in their formative years and thrive.
Till next week, keep attacking.