This is an Arsenal column.
As such, I try not to write too much about Chelsea and in particular their tramp in a tracksuit manager. (Don’t worry, I know I fail on a regular basis. Accepting you have a problem is half the battle!) But this week, as Jurgen Klopp makes his witty entrance to the Premier League as a manager far more of Arsene Wenger’s ilk than the aforementioned Mourinho, I wanted to touch upon why the existence of managers like the Portugese makes me appreciate Arsene even more.
Mourinho has been in the press over the last couple of weeks trying to cover up his Chelsea side’s failings, leveling accusations of bias at referees, and generally trying to create a siege mentality to clear up the trouble that has arrived with his three year itch that seems to spell the end of his time at each and every club he manages.
The trouble with Mourinho’s siege strategy is that it’s been going on too long, there’s no war in any case, and ultimately he’s not quite Winston Churchill. He’s being found out for his medieval methods which inspire fear as much as respect.
Class is permanent
By contrast, Arsene Wenger maintains a dignity which is almost unparalleled in the modern game. Sky might do their best to paint him as some sort of permanently terse and obstinate grumpy old man, but once you manage to move past the sheer amount of both unfavourable editing and unfair criticism, it is notable how throughout these trials and tribulations the Frenchman manages to stay a level above his interrogators. Never stooping to Mourinho’s level, he is head and shoulders above in more ways than just stature.
Another facet of his charisma is his eloquence. Once they move past the immediate needs of clicks and shares, journalists will tell you that Wenger is a reporter’s dream because of his willingness to engage on pretty much any topic. As long as you don’t push him with inane questions (hello again Sky!) the Frenchman will give an honest and insightful answer.
But that same intelligence which means he can answer those questions with aplomb also means that he can see straight through a journalist with an unpleasant agenda, and then he shuts down with a cutting tongue which puts that reporter back in their box. Eloquence underpinned by a sense of justice then.
One of a kind
However, the biggest quality in my mind that distinguishes Arsene as a man from the competition is his unswerving loyalty. Part of that is his loyalty to his players where, no matter how badly they have played (*Coughlympiakos*) he refuses to overtly criticise them, in public at least. It’s a far cry from Mourinho’s policy of not so much throwing his team of “individual failures” under the Chelsea-patented bus as holding a pillow over their faces personally. I know which method I think is likely to get the most from a team!
And of course there is Arsene’s loyalty to the club – his club – which has seen him turn down ‘bigger’ jobs in world football at the height of his success in favour of seeing us through one of the most difficult periods of our history. Another word for it, perhaps, his altruism: he does what is right for the club, irrespective of the personal consequences.
Can you imagine Jose Mourinho staying at a club where he is consistently and overwhelmingly criticised, despite outperforming his resources year-on-year and even getting close to the most unlikely of successes (before some Eduardo-like freak occurrence knocks that dream over)? Like hell.
There’s one big reason Mourinho hates Arsene. Our manager has earned the right to be measured by a different yardstick because his value to the club is so much more than a one-metric-man.
Mourinho comes into a club, spends the GDP of an emerging economy on players in their prime, and inflames those players to some short term success. But as soon as he stays too long, he gets found out. Behind him he leaves an aging squad, worn down by mind games and uncertainty, and zero succession planning.
He’ll almost certainly be gone by May.
But Arsene will still be here, probably with another medal to add to his collection, and Arsenal Football Club will have a team, a squad and indeed and entire infrastructure which can sustain, whether he is here to oversee it or not.
Holding out for a hero
I love the coach, the manager, the guardian in Arsene Wenger, but most of all I love the man as if he were my grandad, with an indulgence that is hard to explain. That’s not to say I don’t question his actions, his decisions – he’s not perfect by any stretch – but it means I’m prepared to accept he has a better view of the bigger picture than me.
For those outside the political bubble of football, you want him to succeed, and the team are starting to put in the kind of performances and generate the kind of results that will give him the further success that his selflessness over the last decade so richly deserves.
There have been many happy memories under Wenger, even between 2006 and 2013, whatever the press would have you believe. This is the man that gave us Arshaviiiiiiiin, Henry vs Leeds, two incredible team goals in one season, two many fantastic North London derby goals to count and, lest we forget, two FA cups in two years. There are many more moments to come.
He cannot guarantee success, but he can guarantee the avoidance of failure. And, Jose, eight points from eight games, goal difference of minus five and 16th place in the table makes you look like the failure to me.
Some would say a specialist.