The Professor's New Clothes: The British Press and the Cult of Arsene Wenger

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The Professor's New Clothes: The British Press and the Cult of Arsene Wenger

It is back to the bread and butter of  league action this weekend , chaps after sampling international cuisine during the European Championship qualifiers and one Fabio Capello can return to the shadows after a few days of opprobrium and ridicule from fans and media alike.
How he must wish that he were Arsene Wenger! Feted by his followers in the media who hang on his every word as the Israelites did on Mount Sinai when God informed them of the Ten Commandments. Every pronouncement from the Frenchman is celebrated as a far sighted vision, every recommendation is seen as sound, every discovery of a new young talent compared to a scientist making a new medical breakthrough.
On Sky Television’s excellent “Sunday Supplement”  Brian Woolnough , not for the first time , quizzed the doyens of punditry  about whether Wenger could remain in the job for as long as he wanted, without pressure from the board or fans to actually win something and looked on incredulously as the three wise men: Holt, Dickinson and Hayward conferred on Wenger the wisdom of Solomon , Nostradmus’ gift of prophecy and proclaimed him a genius ! Holt revering the Arsenal manager for delivering a new stadium, I don’t recall Arsene in a hardhat pouring over architectural plans for the Emirates Stadium , or raising the finance! The Arsenal board delivered the stadium.
Richard Keys was at it again a few days later , during the last round of Champions League games, looking bewildered as he talked of Wenger’s critics as if they were dribbling idiots who should retire to a padded cell.

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How ironic that the stout yeoman of the English press can lose their hearts to a prickly, pig headed Frenchman ! and how fortunate for Wenger that he does not have the pressure of winning that Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti , Roy Hodgson and Alex Ferguson do.
I don’t proclaim to know which teams these writers support, but I will wager it is not Arsenal. If it was might they have some sympathy for the denizens of North London who would like to see some silverware now and again and grow weary at hearing yet another neutral laud them for the attractive football their team plays.
Some of us were aware of him before he arrived at Higbury in 1996, unlike the majority  of football writers in England . He was successful in France with Monaco before departing to the obscurity of the J League. The Monaco title winning team of 1988 had artists like Hoddle but also robust physical types such as Mark Hateley and Manuel Amoros and Luc Sonor.
Likewise , during his glittering early successes at Highbury, his team had as many artisans as artists, but since the middle of the decade he has eschewed the tactics that made him successful, much like a pop star would dismiss  his early commercial successes when he wanted to become known as a serious artist.
But football is not art , it is competitive , it is about winning, Wenger is in danger of become football’s equivalent of the obscure and talented artist, adored by critics but ignored by the public. His problem is that he does not know how to win or finds the means distasteful. This pig headed belief that his way his correct despite any discernible evidence of success is bordering on negligence and yet his critics are rounded upon as unsophisticated barbarians.
Unfortunately, the abomination that is the Champions League has created a comfort zone for the top English clubs. As long as Arsenal can stay in that elite club their finances won’t suffer and they can continue every year to challenge for top honours without actually winning any. Slowly the competitive streak is being eroded from the English game.
One thing is for sure, if the tide of feeling in the Arsenal boardroom or in the stands ever changes it is a good job that Wenger would not consider Glasgow as a potential  new home . Here , if you manage the Old Firm you have to win and win regularly or you are out. Second is nowhere and while the Scottish Premier League is poor in quality the pressure is unique and would be too much for the sensitive Frenchman, just ask one of his proteges Paul Le Guen , whose disastrous reign at Rangers lasted six months before he fled in despair.
If he does take up semi retirement at Paris Saint Germain as their director of football when he leaves Arsenal , a certain Signor Capello should rush straight to the Emirates with his c.v. in his hands. Where better to redeem himself for past transgressions in the eyes of the English media  than at a club where winning is clearly not everything?? One hopes he gets there before a certain Mr. S.G. Eriksson.
Can Wenger continue at Arsenal until he wishes to leave or does he have to start winning trophies?

This article was first published on The Bleacher Report and Football Talk websites on October 18th 2010


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