Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Did you know that on June 19th, Arsene Wenger celebrated 35 years of being a coach at the top level. Missed it? Not surprising because I could only find two of the mainstream newspapers in England, the Mirror and Independent, with any reports in their online editions. Can you imagine any other coach in England whose achievements came even remotely close to Arsene’s being given such scant regard? Instead we are treated to the daily spectacle of journos and pundits pandering and stoking the ginormous ego of Mourinho whose main achievement has been to assemble the most expensive football squads possible in four countries and thereafter bore to death all but the most partisan supporters of these clubs with his brand of functional, win-at-all-cost football.
But I am not here to bury Mourinho. I am here to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that we take Arsene too much for granted. After all he could have easily slipped out of our hands. Not many fans are aware that Arsene was once rejected for the job in 1995, before Bruce Rioch took over. According to a story by Richard Clarke on the dot com:
“The Frenchman was interviewed to take over from Stewart Houston, who had been in caretaker-charge since the departure of George Graham the previous February. However the Board decided to give the position to Rioch, who had built-up a solid CV at Bolton Wanderers.”
Fortunately for the club and for all of us who believe in the beautiful game, the Scot only lasted a season and, after a spell in Japan at Grampus Eight, Wenger returned to take over the reins at Highbury on October 1, 1996.
But I had a nightmare. What if Arsene had decided to say bollocks to the board, throw his marbles out the pram and do a George Graham by hiking it over to our neighbors on the Seven Sisters Road? In 1995-96 the long-haired, faux-hippie Gerry Francis was presiding over another ordinary run at the title finishing 8th at 61 points but only 2 points off Arsenal who finished 5th. What if Lord Sugar had the wisdom he now has (based on his recent tweets lavishing praise at Wenger at every opportunity) and decided to make the bold decision to make the young Frenchman, known for his modern, progressive ideas both at Monaco and Grampus the manager of his bedraggled club.
Can you imagine the Spuds being reinforced by a young Patrick Vierra from Juventus, a Wenger signing to be sure, while waiting until October 1996 to move officially to Spurs. It is easy to see Vierra transforming that midfield of journeymen (Colin Calderwood) and perennial sicknotes (Darren Abderton) into tyros?
Or one year later, the king himself, Thierry Henry, joining Teddy Sheringham into a lethal strike force? Think this is fanciful. The same Sheringham in 1997 transferred to United to strike up a formidable duo with Andy Cole. Four years later he had won three Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one UEFA Champions League. Hell’s bells. What if Wenger was his coach. He might even have become world class.
Imagine if Wenger’s first double in 1997-98 was at WHL instead of Highbury. God forbid. They can’t stop gabbing about their last double in 1960-61, 54 years 2 months and counting. To add insult to injury, with Wenger showing he could win titles unlike the neighbors, it could have been Tony Adams, not Sol Campbell, making the switch in 2001, on the eve of becoming an Invincible in 2003-04.
It is at this point the nightmare scenario became too much. Even for a non-Gooner, such success for the lily white cockerels is impossible to conceive. But Wenger has done the impossible at Arsenal; three league titles, 2 doubles, an Invincible season, 6 FA cup titles, and managing to keep us in the top four while sacrificing to pay for a stadium over 10 years. Is it inconceivable he could have had the same success at that perennial home of mediocrity? What if roles were reversed and the touchline at Arsenal FC was being graced by the likes of Juande Ramos, Harry Rednapp, Andre Villas Boas, Tim Sherwood et al. Simply different class.
In his newspaper interview celebrating his 35 years, Wenger modestly attributed his success to “luck.” If it was all down to good fortune then I urge the Spuds to keep turning the wheel of fortune in the hope they can land a Wenger Mark II. They have chewed up and spit out 17 managers since the boss signed up at Highbury House.
Of course there are some of us who think Arsene is an old washed-up dinousar, unable to lead us to future victories, even after his 6th FA cup victory last may. Maybe it is full-time we finally pack him off to Tottenham and let him try his luck. Who is willing to dare?