Following Arsenal’s 2-1 loss in the north London derby, questions have to be asked about Arsene Wenger’s grip on the club he has managed since 1996.
Wenger has been regarded as one of the greatest managers in Europe. His revolution of English football and transformation of Arsenal has been recognized throughout. He modernized the game in England with sports science, scouting and youth development. But something happened. Things changed and trophy droughts became a reality.
That being said, how great was Wenger’s scouting of “so called” unknowns? Philippe Auclair has played down his unravelling of French talent on countless occasions. He gives the examples of Patrick Vieira, who was at the time the captain of multiple French youth international teams and his local side Cannes. A move to Milan – one of the elite sides in European football at the time – didn’t work out. Meaning Wenger could swoop and get a good deal on a player that was bound for greatness.
Another star, Thierry Henry, who many believe Wenger transformed into a striker, are very much wrong. He was a striker throughout his youth levels and with Monaco, boasting impressive stats at both youth level and with Monaco. Only when he moved to Juventus was he moved to the left. Another disparaging remark is that Wenger nurtured Henry when he was at Monaco. Henry credits his youth development as a footballer to Jean Tigana, the manager of Monaco after Wenger left.
Robert Pires is another French star who wasn’t exactly an unknown. He was widely tipped in France and apparently had the choice between Real Madrid and Arsenal, but chose the latter.
In retrospect, Arsene Wenger’s French revolution in modern times can be likened to Newcastle United. It’s not down to great scouting, but great negotiating. Of course, the role as a negotiator is a tough task, but the talk of Wenger’s ability to pick up virtual unknowns has been a bit overstated.
On the other side of the spectrum, youth development schemes run by Wenger have been questioned. This is because down the years Arsenal have been the youth level equivalent of a Manchester City or Chelsea. Alex Flynn (author of Arsenal – the making of modern superclub) recently gave the example of Denilson, who Rafa Benitez apparently wanted at Liverpool but didn’t get because of the amount Arsenal had spent.
The money spent at Arsenal has been a huge topic. Does Arsenal have money or not? The stadium issue has hamstrung Arsenal’s spending, and Alex Flynn said on the most recent LeGrove podcast that Wenger had assured the board at the time that he had a batch of youngsters coming and not to worry about the team. Wenger, even admitted this in a recent interview with John Cross of the Daily Mirror.
In the podcast, Flynn talks about the strength of the Arsenal brand and how it continues to be undervalued. This is in the wake of the new sponsorship deal with the Emirates. He says that the naming rights are the sticking point and that it devalues the Arsenal brand. Flynn specializes in rights deals.
Despite the financial issues and the failures of the club commercially, one development that wasn’t foreseen by Arsene Wenger was the injection of petrodollars in football. The storyline dramatically changed when Arsenal couldn’t match the likes of Chelsea and then later Manchester City. However, David Dein saw this change coming and brought the likes of Alisher Usmanov and Stan Kroenke to the club. For better or worse, Dein felt the way forward for Arsenal was through mega billionaires. But the impact of that decision was a disaster. It created a fractured board. Two of the largest shareholders don’t talk to each other, as well as creating a certain amount of inertia at board level.
The inertia continues in the dugout. Many feel the managerial style of Arsene Wenger has become stale and power driven. He’s been criticized from far and wide for his inability to delegate power and his dictatorship-like coaching style. Is Wenger scrutinized at club level enough? Is he pushed hard enough? Many fans feel he isn’t. The questions been put in almost every media outlet — are you for or against Wenger?
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