By Tai Emeka Obasi
Wenger’s Arsenal: The Enemy Within.
Arsenal is a global institution that extends far beyond the English horizon. Not just on playing turfs but on the stock market terrains of big business empires. A jigsaw of a dream that took one lanky genius a chunk of his productive years of toil is finally falling into one very pleasant piece of monumental legacy.
Arsenal was already a brand when Arsene Wenger arrived in England nearly 20 years ago to take the reins as its football manager. Not that the north London outfit did any other known business besides football but the coming of this always-wearing-a-thoughtful-mien French took a different turn from the norm. His radical change in playing style, dieting and the kind of players he retained and signed for the club were total departures from those days of 1 – 0 to the Arsenal.
That he garnered trophies while playing the best brand of football ever witnessed on British shores was a pleasant bonus to followers, who grew astronomically as the Gunners entertained match after match.
However, the ex-Monaco FC manager did not come to England with just trophies in mind. A conservative to the core, Le Prof came to the home of conservatism and even improved on the best aspect of it. Having colonised many nations across the globe, including my own Nigeria, Great Britain were and is still known to be relentlessly conservative – sowing for tomorrow is a major axiom of this appreciable practise of improving mankind.
So when Wenger came to Arsenal and England and perfectly imbibed this custom, the workaholic manager must have expected accolades. The admirable plan, painstakingly executed in moving the club from the traditional but far too small a stadium in Highbury to the glorifying modern edifice christened the Emirates that now accommodates his intended expansion of business frontiers should have attracted unquantifiable respect for the man behind the curtains. His insistence that such institutional pride like Arsenal should not be sold to one man that would most likely run the club like a charity outfit should have cornered huge cheers for the dogged workaholic.
But none did or put more succinctly, none appreciably did.
Somehow rivals, who could see as far as where this bean pole was driving Arsenal to, evidently ganged up, even if clandestinely, to stop him in his tracks. Wenger’s early trophy successes, especially with the brand of football he dished out must have been a source of envy to his then bitterest rival, Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson, British, always made certain of having good number of English/British players. Wenger inherited a core English-dominated Arsenal, made them even better. Ian Wright, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, David Seaman, Winterburn all continued with Wenger and retired from Arsenal. He raised Ashley Cole from the youth team, replaced Adams with Sol Campbell…however the fact that he replaced Wright with Thierry Henry, brought Patrick Vieira, signed Emmanuel Petit, Nicholas Anelka, Silvian Wiltord, Roberto Pires – all French – started a conspiracy theory that grew and stuck.
Whispering in relevant circles into right ears made it appear Wenger was out to ruin the English talents. But a man like Wenger is transparent and honest to a fault. He made it clear English players were unreasonably expensive. He would be the last man that would be partisan…it certainly isn’t in his blood. Wenger was leading Arsenal to another level and he needed to save funds to actualise that. He had limited funds and if three better players from France, Holland and Africa could be got at the price of one average English player, he didn’t hesitate to do the right thing.
The fact that he went 49 league matches unbeaten with just Cole and Campbell as English regulars might have infuriated his rivals even more and the conspiracy theory grew. And if you ask me, that was when the AAAs and WOBs started growing.
I truly wasn’t a fan of the English League because the matches weren’t being televised in my country then. But when it became the EPL matches started coming live to Nigerian homes, more so when Nigerian players such as Celestine Babayaro and Nwankwo Kanu got involved. I remember watching Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea in an FA Cup final in same era without an English starter. So, why was Wenger’s ‘sin’ adjudged to be so terribly different? But now that Arsenal are done with transition, Wenger has Danny Welbeck, Callum Chambers, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Ox Chamberlain, and Kirean Gibbs as English regulars once they are fit. Why hasn’t this theory been banished?
How did this mother of all gang ups garner such monstrous momentum on all fronts to downplay the indefatigable efforts of an honest man, who was not only poised to make indelible foot marks on playing style but also firmly attuned to driving the beauty of the game far beyond his generation?
Where is the famed English courtesy, its equity and fairness in officiating matches involving Arsenal? Why did officials clearly aide Ferguson in matches involving Arsenal while the studious French laboured to bring Arsenal close to the business strength of Manchester United? Why did this ‘aggression’ extend to Jose Mourinho’s favour immediately the Portuguese arrived the English shores and seemingly accepted being the one to publicly taunt Wenger and Arsenal out of business?
Could it possibly be that Wenger’s strong resolve that the rules of the game must be fairly obeyed to the letter was and is still distorting mischievous balance? Or is his non-negotiable insistence that the game must be run with profit-making in mind, hence birth of FFP, the main crux eating up the cookies of the sugar daddies, who see the beautiful game as an easy avenue to display their wealth in such bizarre manner to point of ill-gotten? Or are Her Majesty’s Home and Revenue Offices particularly incensed with the man, who has been trying to shrink revenue accruable via players’ wages on weekly bases?
Could obvious answers to these questions hide under the fact that money maketh things, mostly evil, possible? Could it be just one gigantic swoop of gang up initiated by the business moguls, who usually pointed in the direction of oil as source of their questionable limitless revenue, to have an undercover deal with the press, PGMO, Home Office, the FA, Her Majesty’s Revenue Board and more to cut the excesses of Wenger who was churning out operational modalities that were alarmingly derailing their (sugar daddies) cold sails?
Arsenal currently top the EPL table…but can anyone bet they’d be there by May? They’ve been here many times before, only to be dumped out of it by clear evil officiating, terrible press insinuations and worldwide condemnation that, ‘you have to spend to win trophies’. While the hapless football world bought this garb…the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Athletico Madrid won respective leagues with far lower budgets than their hitherto dominating giants in same Leagues. Why hasn’t Arsenal, despite the labours of Wenger, thrived just once? Simple – The gang up was sown deep!
But as a patient and meticulous workaholic like Wenger expressionlessly waits for his last laugh and ready to forgive all that participated in this huge gang up, the other side of his heart must be tumbling nervously on how to ever forgive the other enemy that ate him so mercilessly and deep – The Enemy Within!
The AAAs, WOBs and their likes! How on earth did Arsenal fans (are they really?) get hooked onto the media spin and turned blind eyes to a gang up so glaring to even the blind? How could they have turned against a man they should actually be adoring for bringing their club from just one English outfit to one of the truly best clubs and about the most transparently-managed outfit in global football?
How could those that call themselves Arsenal fans allow to be hoodwinked by the Portuguese braggart called Mourinho that only trophies mattered in the game? How many of Ferguson’s trophies could have gone the Scot’s way in a more balanced atmosphere and fairly managed football league?
While Wenger toiled sleeplessly and clubs with limitless funds turned his players and took them away, these so-called Arsenal fans cursed the man as if he didn’t have enough pains already watching players he nurtured to greatness leave for rival clubs that effectively used them against him in matches.
While the French tactician battled with the Arsenal board on how not to derail from a journey they were nearing finishing line, these set of ‘fans’ continued to rain abuses at a man, whose only known loves are football and Arsenal.
These set of ‘fans’ easily succumbed to other fans’ taunts, especially Chelsea’s with that gleeful,’trophyless Arsenal’. Even when the trophies have been coming for over two years now, these same brainwashed enemies in our midst are again swallowing the stupid bile that ‘only the EPL title mattered as a trophy’.
Did somebody educate these set of fans that if Wenger wanted to strive for just personal glories in name of trophies he could have taken the Man City job when the sugar daddies took over the club to really get back at Ferguson and Mourinho…and take this home – if Wenger did, he would have won at least three EPL titles and the Champions League by now. If Wenger was interested in managing best players in the world for easy victories, he would have taken the Real Madrid job. If he did Real Madrid would have been far better for it.
But Wenger wanted any success to come with Arsenal.
Just before the trophies started coming these AAAs and WOBs wanted Wenger sacked. Sacked? How could any Arsenal board ever pay Wenger back with such ignominy? These set of ‘fans’ wanted Jurgen Klopp. It’s early days yet but seeing Klopp and Liverpool swinging like yo-yo in the league presently doesn’t offer me much conviction that I ever wish to see Arsenal in same brand. Mourinho might have won his truckload of trophies but I never wish for any day I’d wake up to see my Arsenal has lost nine out of just 16 league matches played.
Today same set of ‘fans’ are calling for Wenger to be replaced with Pep Guardiola at end of season. Be careful what you wish for! I adore Guardiola’s style but if he’s truly interested in managing Arsenal, he should get a good tailor for patient garbs and wear them consistently until Wenger says, ‘I’m done with active football’.
For those who truly love football Le Prof is the father of the modern game. He’s head and shoulders above anyone else. Under same circumstances most men would have cracked. But he didn’t. I’m dreading the moment Arsenal will line out again without the ex-Monaco coach in the dugout. While that day rolls along, the Arsenal Board MUST allow Wenger to willingly quit any time he chooses. No amount of trophies in the world can ever equate to what this great man has done for Arsenal and football. There has been one Wenger. Let those who believe in him adore him now. There won’t be another when he’s gone.
Two more anniversaries
- 12 January, 1912 The Derby Daily Telegraph reported meetings of the English and Scottish League regarding claims of unpaid player transfer fees including James Maxwell who after two appearances for Arsenal mysteriously “went missing”.
- 12 January 1993: Cup Match 7 in Arsenal’s Cup Double season. Arsenal 2 Nottingham F 0, in League Cup round 5. Ian Wright scored both goals. All in all Wright scored 10 in the FA Cup that season and five in the League Cup. No Arsenal player has ever scored more than 15 Cup goals in one season.