Arsene Wenger: the best manager England never had
By Simon Bailey.
No work today, the wife was out getting last minute school uniforms, books, bags, and whatever else they need, so I decided to put on The Damned United, the story of Brian Clough’s six week tenure at Leeds United.
It’s not really a ‘Football’ film in the true sense. There is very little on pitch action and most of it was old footage, or shot in such a way as to look like old footage. Its more a story of relationships.
Clough’s relationships with Don Revie and Peter Taylor are key in explaining who the man was, and why he did what he did. One minute drinking champagne from the League Cup, the next crank calling Don Revie at two in the morning.
With Peter Taylor no longer at his side, it was all too apparent that Clough had bitten off more than he could chew at Leeds. Don Revie’s shadow fell long over Leeds United, and considering the comments he made to the press and the players on the first day, it was no wonder Clough only lasted six weeks.
But what stood out most of all for me was that Brian Clough would just go and sign players whenever he needed them. This led to mighty arguments with the chairmen he faced about money and reckless spending, and to Clough’s endless negative commentary on chairmen, and what they knew about football.
I don’t know if Brian Clough bankrupted any of the clubs he worked for, and maybe that’s why the “Brian Clough Attitude” is still rife in the Premier League 35 years later. Although if it is true that Man U and Liverpool are now being hauled in by the banks, then this might well be the moment when the Clough style of management finally came to an end.
But this leads to another point. As we have seen in the past few seasons, quite a few clubs have quite a high turnover of management staff. Chelsea springs to mind as an obvious example: two league cups, two premier league titles and two FA Cups, and yet managers come and managers go. Continuously.
Newcastle on the other hand have waned consistently since Bobby Robson left, and have now been relegated – but they too change and change again.
Both of these teams, and all of the others that continually change their management, are looking for their Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. Someone who can come in and turn things around, as if by magic. Exactly as Wenger did after our year with Rioch.
For some of course the target is modest: just to avoid relegation, for others its a top half of the table finish, and for others it is European Football and endless league championships.
But despite this variety of needs and all the information that is available to everyone clubs about what happens when you change managers regularly, continue to follow the Leeds United 1974 approach, and hire the wrong man for the job. Tottenham, Portsmouth, Newcastle and Chelsea are obvious examples in the last year or so.
So, you will say, on the basis of all this Arsene Wenger and Brian Clough bear very little resemblance to one another.
Arsene is not the rude and arrogant man that Clough was, and in terms of management style and training ground practices, I am sure that they are poles apart.
But what they do have in common is that they both came to clubs and brought in their own ideas, and these ideas brought success.
Indeed it is noteworthy that Arsene Wenger’s incredible 49 games unbeaten, beat the record of 42 games unbeaten established by Brian Clough’s double-European Champions’ team: Nottingham Forest. Yes, Clough did out-do Wenger in Europe (although it was a very different European Cup in those days) but Wenger out-did Clough in terms of doubles and the unbeaten run.
However I would argue that how much silverware Arsenal win in the near future is not important. Although a bit of Bling is always nice, it more often than not detracts the eye from the real substance. What is important is that we have a financially healthy club, and a team that plays the most amazing football in England, and unlike Nottingham Forest of old, a club whose traditions are sustainable. For let us not forget that Clough’s final act was to get Forest relegated.
Like Brian Clough before him, Arsene Wenger has become the most successful manager that England never had – but he has achieved his position in an utterly different manner from Clough. Wenger is obviously the best manager Arsenal have ever had – better even than the fabled and lauded Herbert Chapman. But like Chapman, and unlike Clough, Wenger’s legacy within the club he transformed will live for decades to come, until a new man of gigantic abilities and insights will come along and transform the club once again.
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