Football management can frequently be seen as a cross between a bear pit and a revolving door. Managers welcomed into the family, proudly holding aloft the club scarf before being unceremoniously kicked into the long grass after a few bad results.
Replacing legends takes a bit longer and if you don’t believe me then ask just about anyone that watches their football at Old Trafford, and make no mistake about, Arsene Wenger IS a legend.
It is for that reason that despite all his achievements both on the pitch (three Premier League titles including the Invincibles and seven FA Cups) and off the pitch ( the Emirates Stadium) it will be what happens post-Wenger that will ultimately define the 22-year tenure at Arsenal of this super-cool, enigmatic, phlegmatic, French dude from Strasbourg.
Did he fall or was he pushed? Cleary, it was not his decision to leave now. Many fans (a majority?) have got what they wanted. Two phrases spring to mind; be careful what you wish for and in the words of Joni Mitchell, “…you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
We all know that credit lines of banks were only agreed if Arsene Wenger stayed at the club all these years back, but change is sometimes needed when teams keep committing the same mistakes, which is what was happening at Arsenal.
It could have all been so different. As far back as 2001, a long time before the 2003-04 Invincibles season, the club came close to losing their manager not once, but at least twice and almost certainly more times, and not just to any old club, but to arguably the biggest club in the world – Real Madrid.
The most notable time came back in May 2009 just after Real had spent fortunes on their Galactico recruitment drive which has bought in the likes of David Beckham and Kaka. A certain Cristiano Ronaldo would follow shortly.
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And it was with his final rejection of Real Madrid’s advances that he defined his philosophies and his plans with Arsenal.
He said: “What Real want to do is produce what I would call a spectacle of football, a spectacular team. But when it comes to creating a team, there is another dimension that exists.
“I want to have success by building a team with a style, with a knowhow, with a culture of play specific to the club and its fans and with young people. That is what I have chosen in my career and want to ensure I continue here at Arsenal.
“I am in a construction project with a young team but my intention is to take that project to the ultimate end. For me, pleasure comes from watching those players showing the football I like to see played.
“The sums we are talking about with Real can appear shocking. But they are the fruit of a calculation carried out by the investors in the club.
“I believe it is necessary to disregard moral judgement and to simply ask whether the operation will be profitable. In my opinion, to recruit more than three players in a transfer window, as Real plan, is taking a technical risk.”
Wenger rejected a £6m a year deal and Real Madrid turned their attention towards the then Villarreal coach, Manuel Pellegrini.
But in an interview with French sports magazine L’Equipe, football agent Marc Roger revealed that on many occasions the French coach had been receiving overtures from the club president, Florentino Perez.
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In it he said: “It was his [Perez’s] dream to hire him. But Arsene, who has the mindset of a youth training coach, did not want to go there. ‘He is the only man in the world who refused to manage the Real Madrid with Roberto Carlos, Figo, Zidane and Beckham. And he took a lot of time to refuse the offer.”
“We started the meetings in 2001 and in 2003 we were still discussing and negotiating. ‘In the last meeting in January or February 2003, only (Jorge) Valdano (Real Madrid’s then General Manager) came as Perez did not believe it would happen anymore.”
He was right, not just then but also six years later when another attempt was made.
Trying to find out what would have happened to both Real Madrid and Arsenal if he had gone would be an interesting exercise of science-fiction.