The announcement of Arsene Wenger departing the club has led to the inevitable thoughts of the many years the Frenchman has been at the helm of the club.
After twenty two years of ups and downs, the search for Wenger’s disappearing mojo has led us all down a variety of paths.
Some scenic – some desolate.
Was it the start of the financial restraints and the need to sell our star players year after year?
Perhaps it was down to the changing face of football tactics and Wenger’s taciturn approach to his methods under fire?
The influx of cash that flooded the game was always a weapon that Wenger liked to furiously brandish, waving it with enthusiasm as United, Chelsea and City began to spend money like Mario Balotelli in a fireworks factory.
Or was it simply Wenger’s recalcitrance?
It’s probably a combination of the above, but his choice of Assistant Manager could be a contributing factor.
Arsene Wenger inherited the services of Pat rice when he joined back in 1996. The Arsenal stalwart bleeds red and white and through his playing and coaching career, Rice accrued invaluable knowledge of the club.
Rice was a huge reason Wenger’s strange and new methods took so well at the club. It helped that the results soon started to flow, but the playing personnel had a familiar face and one that was convinced by Wengers actions. This would help convert the masses.
Rice was no manager though. He was the perfect Assistant, and it meant that when results started to go south and an objective voice was required, Rice was the perfect ally rather than the difficult words that needed to be said.
Rice left Arsenal in 2012, when our ship began what was a particularly rough patch of water. This stretch of choppy seas we are still navigating, and another former Gunner has taken the coveted seat next to Arsene.
Much has been speculated about the role of assistant to Wenger. Some have said his rule is absolute. His reluctance to scout opposing teams and instill rigorous defensive training is yet another piece in the Wenger falling star jigsaw, and you would think two of our finest defenders would be just the answer to our backline blues?
Maybe it’s true that Bould and Rice have not been allowed to impart their wisdom on proceedings, maybe it’s fallacy. What isn’t myth is that perhaps, these men weren’t the answer? Rice perhaps in his later years was not the right man, and is Bould the right hand man Wenger needs when the ground became rockier and the incline steeper?
Some of the greatest triumphs involved a Manager who realised his limitations and stuck to what he was good at, and relied on his Assistant Manager to plug the gaps. Brian Clough leaned on Peter Taylor and look what they achieved with Forest and Derby. Sir Alex Ferguson used a number of Robin’s to his Batman and his trophy cabinet bulged. Kidd, McClaren, Quieroz, Knox, Smith and Phelan were just some of the names that were allowed to have an impact on the training field.
One of the finest examples of this involved our own Bertie Mee and Don Howe. Mee knew his own boundaries and so did Howe, but together they formed a formidable coaching unit.
It is increasingly difficult for just one man to play every part at a club, and with Wenger going from Arsenal, this is maybe one of the last Managerial postings where the manager has his fingers in a multitude of pies. Now is the time of the coach, and now we have Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, we have the expertise to supplement a great coach on the training pitch.
Arsene Wenger at times could have really done with a partner to pull him to one side and make him realise where his errors were. Whether he would have listened or not is another matter entirely.
Wenger is still undeniably – along with Chapman – the greatest manager we’ve had. We’re lucky to have been able to witness what we have during his tenure. Even in his later years, we were still treated to some football from the gods.
Wenger’s legacy is where we stand right now, and our brand of football. With or without a change in Assistant Manager, we still have this to remember him by.
With a different Robin though? Batman could have really made Gotham a better place.
Published in the Gooner Fanzine.