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Arsene Wenger: the best manager England never had.

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.

If you would like to submit an article to Untold Arsenal for publication please drop a line to Tony@hamilton-house.com giving a brief outline of what you would like to write about.  Previously I was inviting people to send in completed articles, and I am sorry that we did not manage to publish them all.  I hope this new approach will save writers from working long and hard on an article that we simply can’t fit in.

6 comments to Arsene Wenger: the best manager England never had.

  • steww

    Great minds think alike Simon. I too popped it on the other day and I must say I enjoyed it. Clough is the only non Arsenal man I ever truly admired. I detested the way the press dared to laud Mourinho’s childish attempts to impersonate him.
    Also, you don’t get many partnerships in management any more like the Clough/Taylor axis. At least I struggle to think of any…

  • Marc

    England do not deserve Wenger. The bunch of thug’s and morons who comprise the majority of the England squad would not understand his genius.

  • locomotif

    I have lost 35kg since I knew Wenger.

  • Faron

    Marc. Thats very harsh. England have got some great players And Wenger would have these “thugs and Morons” in the Arsenal Squad but we cant afford them.

  • Flint McCullough

    Interesting piece Simon.

    Even though the time gap is not that great, it is like comparing players from different eras- impossible.

    Brian Clough’s methods worked with a certain type of player but I doubt that those would be successful with the multi millionaire footballers of today from all backgrounds, that they now come from.

    Clough was a man of his time, Forest & Derby, before them, played great, not over physical football, so he deserves much credit. It is my view that it would not have worked for him as an England manager but perhaps they should have found out.

    Football has changed totally in the last 10-15 years & we are very fortunate to have one of its greatest ever thinkers in Arsene Wenger. It should be said begrudgedly that Alex Ferguson has had to adapt to the great changes in football & deserves much credit for being able to do so.

    “Wenger is obviously the best manager Arsenal have ever had – better even than the fabled and lauded Herbert Chapman”

    That is rather presumptive to say the least. Herbert Chapman was an absolute pioneer & again it is impossible to compare different eras.

  • Kwame

    How many England playa Wenger know any english players? beyond the ones in his club? Wenger would probably want to taking the train to all internantonal matches cause it much much cheap that way, which is smart because then you have extra time to talk to the players and tell them what to do and how to win.