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It’s no great secret that since his arrival in North London, Arsene Wenger has been targeted by the media, as the enemy of the Premier League, a foreigner no less, who came into our country and declared a one-man Révolution against the British game.
Origins of the Feud
With a comprehensive philosophy which encompassed every aspect of running a football club, from player’s diets and discipline to a unique style of play and overseas scouting networks, Wenger was changing the face of English football.
And as you will find in almost any institution, business or walk of life; we tend to fear that which we do not understand, and resist change which threatens ‘the way things were’.
And so, the newspaper editors, journalists and pundits emerged from their houses, pitchforks at the ready and torches alight, waving the flag of 1966, intent on protecting the sanctity of the game which we gave to the world.
Wenger had turned his back on the plethora of talent on our own shores and began to assemble a squad, in his own image; foreign players, full of flair, speed, intelligence and guile, who would eventually justify Wenger’s whole philosophy, by lifting a golden Premier League trophy as ‘The Invincibles’ would go the whole season unbeaten.
Quick Draw Arsene
Wenger was a step ahead of the game, conscious of a gifted group of young footballers coming through the youth ranks in France, and ready to take full advantage of the shortcomings of English football, to pride technical skill over brute size and strength.
And the only danger with being a step ahead of the game is that, if you don’t keep evolving and progressing, eventually, everyone else is going to catch up.
Owners, managers and coaches were desperate to get their hands on Wenger’s ‘blueprint’ and set about adapting it to suit their own teams. Some tried to replicate the formula and some even tried to develop the antidote.
If the likes of Cantona, Kanchelskis and Schmeichel had breached the Premier League defences, then Wenger’s success had blown the floodgates wide open, for there was a dramatic influx of foreign talent, as players and managers were looked to, to recreate Arsenal’s recipe for success.
This undoubtedly contributed to the rise in the global popularity of the Premier league and is something Wenger should be praised for.
The level of competition within the league itself has risen as a direct result of the Arsenal boss showing how teams without bags of money can level the playing field, through strong youth systems and by ensuring that all players are in peak physical condition.
But instead of being held up as a shining example for the rest of the game to follow, he is mocked and singled out by the press. As if being the last sane person in the asylum (which is run by the patients) is a bad thing.
While I am not accusing Wenger of slowing down altogether over the last decade, I would concede that his attention turned from the immediate present to sustaining the future of his beloved Arsenal; and with that, some sacrifices had to be made.
The club were tied to decade-long sponsorship deals which diminished in value but were necessary in order to sanction the construction of a new 60,000 seater state-of-the-art stadium.
The £300M debt incurred by the construction of the Emirates, restricted Wenger’s power in the transfer market substantially, and now that everyone had either a strong scouting network or a billionaire investor, it became almost much more difficult to compete.
And still, Wenger refused to abandon his principles and endanger the long-term future of the club, in return for immediate success; and with these limited resources, the boss has still managed to secure champions league football year after year.
It is truly a remarkable achievement for a club going through such a drastic transition… unless of course, you tend to pick up a newspaper from time to time, follow twitter religiously or find yourself glued to Sky Sports News each day.
The media have enjoyed their revenge.
Wenger has been painted as a miserly, whinging old man, whose ‘outdated’ views are incompatible with the beautiful game in its modern form.
He does indeed refuse to pay the over-inflated prices for top quality players and would, by his own admission, rather help to create a superstar than just buy a ready-made one.
He is remarkably patient, in a game that has become increasingly desperate for immediate results, and would rather balance the books, than turn to a billionaire investor to cover the losses.
He may even be naïve to believe that the modern-day superstar (even those who he created, moulded and protected) will remain loyal to him when Barcelona, City, United and Madrid try to lure them away with promises of silverware and even more riches.
And perhaps his commitment to one team for 17years without continued success is something so alien in modern football that we can simply no longer comprehend it.
But look at what exactly, the media are trying to condemn; loyalty, virtue, spending within your means, sacrificing now to avoid the club and its fans paying the ultimate price later?
Re-Adjusting their Aim
The press have always had an agenda when it comes to the greatest manager in Arsenal’s illustrious history.
But this doesn’t, nor has it ever fazed the great man. He remains comically unmoved by their criticism and continues to toy with the journalists in press conferences for his and our own amusement.
…And so the media shifted their focus; away from the manager himself, and towards the fans.
They now claim to speak on our behalf; telling us how we should feel about the fact that we haven’t won a trophy in 8 years and pouring poison in our ears.
If there is one thing that can certainly get under Wenger’s skin and upset him, I promise you, it’s the fans and their opinion of him.
And what’s worse; were beginning to listen to them…
They parade Arsenal legends such as Tony Adams, Paul Merson and Ian Wright on our television screens and on our back pages, three players who owe the highlights of their careers to Wenger, and pay them enough to smear his name (and with three brain cells between them, who can really blame them).
We lose to Villa on the first day of the season and they ask you: “Surely now he has to go?”
But when Cardiff turns City over (without the help of two penalties and a red card) it was just Cardiff’s day wasn’t it?
The Rumblings of Civil War
There is no denying that a split between those who still support Wenger, and those who have lost both patience and faith in him, has become increasingly more obvious.
And this article, though I fear it is obvious which side of the fence I’m on, is not a desperate attempt to ease the tension or draw some of you lost souls back towards the light, or even to provoke a reaction.
I mean, rather simply, to invite you to put down the newspapers, unfollow Piers Morgan on Twitter, and really evaluate all the ‘terrible’ things that Arsene Wenger has done to our club.
Yes, he is stubborn; stubborn in that he will not sacrifice the principles that our club is built upon and he feels he has a responsibility to uphold.
Yes, he is also a control-freak; but what would a manager who has experienced so much success in terms of trophies, Champions League experience, buying and selling players, creating superstars and a Masters in Economics know about running a football club?
Yes, we haven’t won a trophy for 8 years; but we have maintained champions league football during a massive transition period, one which many clubs will have to go through in the future. Chelsea were waiting 50 years to win the title in 2005, Man Utd had been waiting for a quarter of a century when Sir Alex Ferguson won his first league title in 1993 and Spurs… as if I need to say any more on that.
Brothers In Arms
With all the battle’s that Arsene Wenger is constantly fighting, he can ill-afford a mutiny from within the club or a civil war amongst its fans. We support Arsenal FC, through thick and thin, and our manager, after all he has given us, needs our support and has earned our patience… don’t let anyone convince you of otherwise.
“The media’s power is frail, without the people’s support”.