Africa: Only Those Who Understand Football Can Appreciate Wenger


Photo: NFF

Nigeria Football Federation President Amaju Pinnick and Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger. (file photo).

For a few weeks, as I mulled over the idea of penning this column, about what to make of Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal, where he has been manager for twenty years this month, I realized that I needed to be candid.

This is something that could rub some people the wrong way. But there was no better way I could drive my point home for people to get the gist of it.

Although football has masses that watch it dedicatedly, unfortunately, very few people actually understand it and its dynamics. I will give just one simple example: today, you still find people grappling with the away goals rule. Such a basic thing!

Then, why won’t they see Wenger’s legacy as a failed one because he has not won an English Premier League title since 2004? It is that simplistic. But in reality, football, even though anyone can kick a ball around, is not as simple to comprehend as many may perceive. And especially as far as the legend of the game that Wenger is, is concerned.

TROPHIES

A certain level of intelligence is called for on these issues. Because many of us have been inducted into football on the premise of winning championships alone, we are blinded from any other thing.

Whenever Arsenal has not won championships, placards in the stands calling for Wenger to be sacked have been raised. But if you think making the top four in the Premier League is so simple, ask Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool that have had formidable squads in recent years, yet outside these positions.

Then consider the fact that for the bigger part of the last ten years, Wenger built a squad on a shoe-string budget, relying on small-name players such as Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Eboue, among others, to remain competitive.

TALENT DEVELOPMENT

Apart from Sir Alex Ferguson, who proved his wit over the years by using unproven talent to win, Wenger is a master of grooming talent and giving young and low-profile players a chance without inhibition.

That is an outstanding deliverable from the Frenchman, which, by all means, is reason he has kept in his job this long. His ability to nurture and develop talent like he did in making Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Kolo Toure, Fabregas or Ashley Cole into the kind of competitive players they have been is proof of Wenger’s high-level astuteness.

If you are the kind obsessed with trophies alone, you will be unable to see this as a quality in Wenger. But not many coaches today can boast of this. In fact, most top coaches actually buy marquee players to get around.

MONEY SAVED

Through spending less on building a team, Wenger has enabled Arsenal save millions of pounds and, as a result, built a great stadium. That is management personified from this manager, whose ideals are to ensure that Arsenal lives on.

But at the same time he has markedly left an imprint on football – how exactly to manage a team, and how club management must relate with their coach for sustainable growth. For example, the sacking of coaches must never be trendy, but a cause-in-effect.

There must be real justification that goes beyond just the match-day result, or, better still, a championship, as many football fans normally want the case to be.

STABILITY AND CONTINUITY

Lack of trophies can never be used without evaluation to mark out a coach as a failure. How many reading this piece can brand Diego Simeone a failure because he has failed to deliver a Uefa Champions League trophy at the Vicente Calderon for Atletico Madrid?

Moreover, his team has played in two finals over the last three seasons. But I am sure no one can explicitly say Simeone is a failure.

And this is why: you feel he is right at the threshold of breaking that glass ceiling. But while this thinking is informed by sentiment, for a true football intellectual, giving Simeone time has got to be inspired by the logic of reason.

Success comes to teams given time to grow and build chemistry. Here, it can be lasting glory, which would result from the camaraderie between gaffer (system) and players.

Arsenal is on that course with Wenger. But, like I said, you must understand football in the head, not the heart, to appreciate what a top manager Wenger is; and he will be a reference point for generations.



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