ONE OF Fleet Street’s finest had a pop at Arsene Wenger the other day – form an orderly queue, why don’t you – suggesting his recent struggles will taint his considerable legacy when the time comes for him to move on.
Well, I’ll go to the bottom of our stairs! Who’d have thought it? Struggling manager in legacy shocker. Other than May’s FA Cup victory, perhaps an oasis in a long, arid decade or so for Wenger, the signs have pointed this way for a long, long time.
So much of the focus understandably centres on Wenger but I think pundits have mostly got the Arsenal debate quite wrong. Instead of looking at what’s gone wrong in the second half of his 18-year tenure, let’s examine what was right about the first.
DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL
Most Gunners fans don’t need to be told how important David Dein was to Wenger’s initial story of success on the back of breathtaking play.
Dein, the vice-chairman, waited many years to bring him to Arsenal. He tried post-George Graham in 1995 but could not convince a sceptical Highbury board; 12 months later, Dein got his man.
Perhaps more than at any other time since Dein left in 2007, now is time to examine whether or not the best course of action is to reunite Wenger with his most able ally, the ultimate director of football who never had nor sought that soubriquet. The cry from the Emirates faithful (or those not quite so faithful) should be “Dein In”, not “Wenger Out”.
Football politics may make this fanciful, but why should it? If the current board has the club’s best interests at heart – a given, surely – they should forget the circumstances of Dein’s departure. At the time, he wanted new money into the club as they geared up for their new stadium.
The arguments in favour of his return are blindingly obvious. The angry Arsenal contingent that gave Wenger fearful stick on the platform of Stoke railway station last weekend will have included many who complain that in recent years he has allowed quality players (such as Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry) to depart without properly replacing them. I’d say shouldering the burden of management, coaching and recruitment has much to do with that.
Dein managed the “business” of the team, recruiting top stars in tandem with Wenger’s blueprint. He often used his own impressive contacts to secure some outstanding signings and helped forge that 2004 team of Invincibles.
Patrick Vieira, Henry, Van Persie, Nicolas Anelka, Robert Pires and Sol Campbell were just some of the players who were brought in by the Wenger-Dein axis.
Fancy a bit of that all over again? Who wouldn’t? Even Dein himself, in a recent interview, suggested it might not be out of the question.
“Do I miss it?” he echoed his questioner. “The truth is, yes. I miss it on a daily basis. I miss the jousting, the relationship with Arsene, of course I do.” And Arsenal miss him. More pertinently, Arsene Wenger would be all the better for his return.