It’s clearly states in the football fans bible ‘thou shalt not covet thy neighbours manager’ but this Tottenham Hotspur fan can’t help but make eyes at Arsenal's Arsene Wenger.
This was going to be a flippant, tongue in cheek, knockabout piece on how despite my prejudices I quite enjoy ex Arsenal players as pundits. Merson is an idiot savant, Perry Groves comes across as knowledgeable and enthusiastic and Lee Dixon is the second best of a bad bunch on Match Of The Day. Tony Adams faux-philosopher look has a certain charm to it and I even began to miss Ian Wright’s energy from England games. Compare that to the ex Spurs punditocracy and we’re relying on David Ginola’s charisma to carry the TV personalities of Sheringham, Lineker and to a lesser extend Gazza, Jamie Redknapp and Hoddle.
But the more I thought about it the more I realised there was a major part of the Arsenal set up that I begrudgingly respect, a serious component of the Woolwich Wanderers that I cast an envious eye over, their manager
It brings me no joy to say it but Arsene Wenger is a genius. Even now he’s mental I’d love to have him at Tottenham Hotspur. No slight on Harry but what ‘Le Professor’ has done for those lot down the road is nothing short of miraculous.
I wouldn’t have been able to write this down at all a few years ago. For a disproportionally large amount of my football supporting years Spurs were so much worse than Arsenal the idea of praising them seemed alien. But now the gap is closing I feel easier about passing on a nice word because conversations with a gooner are a bit more even. We can covet each other’s players and admire facets of each other’s clubs. In the dark days if I hinted I quite liked Kanu all I’d get back was dogs abuse about how nobody in our squad was fit to doctor the D.O.B on his driving licence.
But even when Arsenal were winning leagues, cups and appearing in European finals in the late 80’s and early 90’s it was easy to feel moral superiority because they played turgid ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ football. On the other hand we were unpredictable but on occasion played some gorgeous stuff in the traditions of Arthur Rowe's ‘push and run’.
So in the late 90’s, when Arsenal were playing the ‘Tottenham way’ and we were managed by George Graham, through the tears you could just about hear me sob ‘if only’. If only the timing had been different. If only the managerial musical chairs of 1996 and 1997 had worked out in our favour. Then Wenger could have won the double in his first full season for us and the other lot could be mid to lower table also rans for the next 20 years instead. But it’s the Arsenal who bagged their most important manager since Herbet Chapman and we got a different gaffer every couple of years until the end of time.
It’s been so long since Arsenal fans have had to deal with major upheaval that they’re crying out for a change for changes sake.
The respect for Wenger goes further than results on the pitch. His influence on the way Arsenal is run chokes me with admiration. The youth policy and training regime at the club is such that they can develop a talent brought in on the cheap, sell him on for a ridiculous profit and – most tellingly – that player will be rubbish for whoever they play for next, maybe for the rest of their career. I’d love that to happen at Spurs. To somehow drill it into everyone that when you leave the haloed ground of White Hart Lane all your powers disappear.
During Wenger’s time in charge there’ve been loads of players who either jumped or were pushed into taking a step down on their career trajectory even if they thought they were going to a ‘bigger’ club. These players don't realise the reason they did so well is not just because of their individual talent but because of the manager and the team he assembled. Obviously there’re exceptions but for every Ashley Cole – who has arguably done better since he left Arsenal – there’re Flamani, Hleb and Bentley, Samir Nasri should take note.
Then there’s the work Wenger did keeping Arsenal competitive while they saved up for a new stadium. Selling players for massive profits then replacing them with clones who were significantly cheaper and in some cases better. You can’t help but be impressed with the number of World Cup winners and international superstars Wenger has let go for silly money yet still had a team that challenges for domestic honours and has made it to a Champions League final, all the while playing the brand of football we think is our birthright.
With all the success comes consistency of vision. It’s been so long since Arsenal fans have had to deal with major upheaval that they’re crying out for a change for changes sake. I’d love a bit of that stability, we had a period of getting four managers in a year, ‘shaking things up’ rarely helps.
I could of course bang on about how he can spot a player and how he’s bought more Thierry Henry’s than Franny Jeffers’, but I’ve pushed my magnanimity to it’s limits. I’m just going to sit back and wait for every self-respecting Spurs fans to have a pop in the comments section. I might even slag myself off. I know I’ve shown myself to be more Lilly livered than Lilywhite but I hope in time there are more things for me to admire about Arsenal, because it’ll mean we’re not doing so badly ourselves.
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