When Arsenal unveiled Arsene Wenger as their new manager in September 1996, it was a controversial choice. The Frenchman had spent the previous 18 months coaching a Japanese side and with the look of a school teacher, would he have the quality and the character to make Arsenal serious competitors in the Premier League?
The answer has been emphatic. Wenger has transformed Arsenal Football Club, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups among other achievements in his eleven-year reign. Wenger’s ability to spot top class young players, his strict emphasis on diet, fitness and training regimes and his ethos of glorious attacking football has made Arsenal one of Europe’s most exciting and successful football teams over the last decade.
Fluent in five languages, the master tactician is the only Arsenal manager to win the FA Cup more than once. He is the only non-British manager to win the domestic double (Premier League and FA Cup) and the only manager in Premier League history to complete the season unbeaten with a club. Arsenal even unveiled a bronze bust of Wenger outside the Emirates stadium last month as a tribute to his achievements at the club.
Born to coach
Arsene Wenger was born on October 22, 1949 in Strasbourg. He had an unremarkable playing career as a centre-half or sweeper, making his debut in 1969 at amateur club Mutzig. Wenger proved his education was just as important as football, when he graduated in 1974 with a master’s degree in Economics from Strasbourg University. He finally made his professional debut in 1978 for Strasbourg against Monaco. In the following year Wenger won the French title with the club, but he only played in three matches that season. Wenger obtained his manager’s diploma in Paris in 1981 and was appointed as Strasbourg’s youth team coach. His management career had begun.
First success at Monaco
Wenger was given his first senior management job by Nancy in 1984 but this was unsuccessful and the club experienced relegation under his charge. In 1987 hewas appointed manager of Monaco where his managerial career took off. Wenger tasted immediate success, winning the French Championship in his first season in charge and was voted manager of the year. Under his leadership, Monaco never finished outside the top three in the league, won the French Cup in 1991 and were runners up in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1992. When Monaco reached the final of the Champions’ League in 1994, Wenger was offered jobs by Bayern Munich and the French National team but turned them down to honour his contract. Weeks later Monaco sacked Wenger after a poor start to the 1994-95 season.
The unknown man from Japan
Wenger spent his next 18 months as manager of Grampus Eight in the Japanese J. League. His impact was immediate, lifting Grampus out of the bottom three to the runners-up spot. Wenger was
named manager of the year and won the Emperor’s Cup with the club. In the summer of 1996 Gerard Houllier, the technical director of the French Football Federation, recommended Wenger to
David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman and close friend of Wenger. When Bruce Rioch resigned as Arsenal manager in August 1996, Dein saw the chance to get his man. On September 28 1996 Wenger was named as Arsenal’s first foreign manager.
In his second season in charge, Arsenal won the domestic double for the second time in their history, after making up a 12-point deficit on Manchester United. Wenger was to transform an ageing Arsenal side into genuine title contenders for the following years, as well as a team playing exhilarating attacking football. Although Arsenal came close many times in the following years, their next success did not come till the 2001-2002 season, where they won another glorious double.
In 2002 Wenger was awarded France’s highest civil honour, the Legion d’Honneur. This relatively unknown manager had now moulded a side capable of beating anyone on their day, with players such as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell forming the backbone of his team. In 2003 Arsenal won the FA Cup and Wenger was awarded an honorary OBE for services to British football.
One of the Frenchman’s finest achievements was in 2004 when Arsenal did not lose one Premiership match all season and collected their third Championship under his management. He became the only manager in Premier League history to complete a season unbeaten. Their incredible 49 match unbeaten run came to an end with a defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final. Arsenal almost achieved European success by reaching the final of the Champions League in 2006 but were beaten 2-1 by Barcelona.
After undergoing a transformation period over the past two seasons, he has formed a new generation of talented young stars such as Alexander Hleb, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie. His young side have started the new season superbly, currently unbeaten and Wenger won the September 2007 Manger of the Month award.
Transfer wizard and master tactician
One of Wenger’s greatest talents is his ability to spot stars of the future. He is a master of the transfer market. Time and time again he has bought young, relatively unknown players for a modest fee and developed them into world class footballers.
At Monaco he was laughed at for signing the unknown Liberian George Weah in 1988 but seven years later, the player went on to win the FIFA World Player of the Year. He signed Nicolas Anelka for £500,000 and sold him two years later for over £22m. Players such as Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Kolo Toure have been signed by Wenger for a low fee and developed under his management to become world class players.
His greatest success must be Thierry Henry, transforming him from an inconsistent left winger to one of the greatest forwards ever to play for Arsenal and indeed in English football. His latest young star Cesc Fabregas, another unknown quantity when he was signed, is already one of the best midfielders in the world at the age of 20.
A true professional
Wenger craves professionalism and more importantly, success. Wenger’s brave style of management ensures he gets the best out of his players. He moved Petit from left-back and made him a world class midfielder and Kolo Toure from midfield to central defence. When he arrived at Arsenal he banished the club’s drinking and junk food culture and changed its dietary and training schedules.
There have been times where Wenger has been known to lose his temper on the touchline and has struggled to keep his anger under control. In August 2000 Wenger was charged for threatening behaviour towards a fourth official and in October was handed a £100,000 fine and a 12-match touchline ban. This was later overturned, but since then he has had uncomfortable relationships with
top managers Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. In October 2004 he was found guilty of improper conduct for making comments about referee Mike Riley and Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistlerooy. Wenger’s temper stems from his desire to succeed, his incredible enthusiasm and determination to get the best out of his team.
Letting go of superstars
Just as impressive as his skills of signing and developing players is his ability to know when their time is up. Rarely has he sold one of his stars and regretted the decision. He knew exactly when Petit, Overmars, Anelka and Vieira had reached their peak at Arsenal. This summer, arguably their greatest ever player, Thierry Henry, was sold and Wenger’s young team look a better side
without him. Without their star player dominating the attack, Arsenal are playing exceptional football this season. He is outstanding at cashing in at the right time and using the money to spend on stars of the future.
Boring, boring Arsenal?
Gone are the days where Arsenal would rely on their famous defence to try and snatch one-nil victories. Wenger has completely changed their playing style and mentality to create a side who play attacking football, full of skill, pace and movement. Wenger only signs players who fit this style of play. They play relentless, fast, attacking football where player’s movements must be
interchangeable, unpredictable and passes short and quick. Often the team has been criticised for overplaying, but his desire for Arsenal to produce such mesmerizing and dangerous football must be admired.
Eats, drinks and sleeps football
The Arsenal manager wants the club as well as his team to succeed. His personal involvement in the designing of the Emirates stadium showed to Arsenal directors, players and fans his passion and commitment to the club.
It is strange to think now that that on September 28 1996 many doubted this unknown Frenchmen’s credentials as a Premiership manager. In the past 11 years he has transformed Arsenal into the best attacking side in the country, entertained us with signings of world class overseas talent and become the most successful foreign manager in British football.
- French League Championship 1988
- French Cup winner 1991
- Emperor’s Cup winner 1996
- Japanese Super Cup winner 1996
- English League Championship 1998, 2002, 2004
- FA Cup winner 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005
- Manager of the Year 1988, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2004
- Awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 2002
- Awarded an honorary OBE in 2003 for services to British football