Arsène Arsenal’s Greatest Ever Manager?
Many things got me thinking about what makes someone worthy of the title “the greatest ever” and I guess there is some irony that I had this post all planned out in my head days before Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement.
I don’t want to dwell on his retirement and I know quite a few readers will be offended by my use of Sir as most of us prefer Slur Ferguson or just plain good old Rednose however I think it would be foolish not to recognise his achievements and respect him for what he is because had things been different and the Arsenal board willing to wait until after the World Cup in Mexico Ferguson may well have been our manager for the past 27 years and I’m sure very few would complain if we’d had their level of sustained success.
Ferguson is already hailed as the greatest ever manager in premier league history and will probably remain so and may even be hailed as the greatest ever manager in English football history and it is this word “great” that got me thinking.
This post first came to me whilst I watched the snooker last weekend. I am a huge snooker fan, I absolutely love it and if it weren’t for Arsenal snooker would be my favourite sport. As a kid I grew up watching the likes of Stephen Hendry who was everyone’s favourite player but my favourite was an old favourite whose glory days had passed and that was Steve Davis.
I grew up watching videos of Davis, Higgins (Alex not John) and Reardon and liked them all for very different reasons but Davis was my favourite. Was it because like me he was a South East London boy? Possibly so. It’s one of the reasons I always liked Rocky Rocastle despite the majority of my memories of him were of him as a Chelsea player. There’s something about a local hero that just calls to you and it’s just coincidence that Gary Oldman is one of my favourite actors (if you don’t know who he is, google him but whatever you do don’t forget to type the R unless you want to be blinded) but David Bowie and Kate Bush for example are people I probably would never have listened to had they not been from my neck of the woods. I wouldn’t have become a big fan of The Rolling Stones had I not grown up with stories of them visiting my nan’s street because Bill Wyman’s sister lived down there and made a point to listen to their music. Although I drew the line at Bros. Alas, I digress.
So, Davis was my favourite for a long-time but soon I found myself rooting for this new sensation by the name of Ronnie O’Sullivan. My support and love for Davis never went away but my love for O’Sullivan came about and grew in a similar way to my love for Arsenal.
The Arsenal of my early childhood was Davis-esque under Graham. David could attack and build breaks with the best of them but he wasn’t the sort of risk-taker O’Sullivan is. His game was built on excellent reading of the game, shutting opponents out with superb safety and tactical play and using this to win almost everything that was put in front of him. Arsenal in the late eighties, early nineties I think were similar. They could attack with the best of them but won their honours by shutting opponents out with excellent defensive and tactical play and not taking unnecessary risks.
Then Arsène Wenger came along and changed everything. He set up teams that took risks and attacked with aplomb the way Ronnie O’Sullivan did/does. We didn’t win everything but we always entertained and when we did win it was won with style, much like Ronnie. This was a new kind of Arsenal to me and I loved it. I never stopped loving the old Arsenal and have very fond memories of those days despite not winning much in the mid-nineties, much like Davis.
So, my love of snooker got me thinking about greatness. Steve Davis, Ray Reardon and Stephen Hendry are considered among the greatest snooker players of all time because of their success and Hendry is probably worthy of the greatest ever title he has due to his record 7 world championship wins. So where does that leave the likes of Alex Higgins, O’Sullivan and Jimmy White? Players who have in some cases won quite a bit albeit inconsistently and in others struggled to win much at all. Well they get left with titles such as “best ever” or “most naturally gifted”.
I think in football greatness is measured in the same way. Talent is a part of it sure but the crux is success.
Alex Ferguson may well be the greatest manager of all time but is he the best? I cannot answer that without bias nor without ridicule. For me, greatness is measurable, it’s trophies, it’s success. Being the best isn’t always able to be measured by success. We all know that sometimes the best team doesn’t win so we can agree that success cannot be the crux of what makes something/someone the best. Best is a matter of opinion. I think the iPhone is the best smartphone many would disagree but for what I want from a phone it’s the best for me.
Arsène Wenger is known as our greatest manager ever because of his trophy haul but is that true? On paper he has won the most trophies but does that make him the greatest?
Herbert Chapman is the man often put forward as the greatest if not Wenger because of his trophy haul but if you take out the charity/community shield, which isn’t really a trophy in my book, then he is left with 2 league titles and 1 FA Cup. George Allison and Tom Whittaker have identical records. George Graham has the same amount of titles and FA Cups but he can boast 2 League Cups and a UEFA Cup Winners Cup, one of the the club’s two European honours.
We cannot argue for Chapman over Wenger if we ignore those other three. I think it’s also a little unfair to say that Wenger is greater than all of those four due to one more trophy than Graham as there are too many variables to consider when the difference is that small.
I think a fairer way would be trophies to seasons as trophies to games would open up a whole new can of worms. I’m sure many would argue that our barren period counts against Wenger but despite being a huge Wenger fan I think it’s fair as lesser clubs have won FA Cups and League Cups in that time and to blame finances for cup games is a bit weak in my opinion as Portsmouth, Swansea and Birmingham have won cups during that spell and to suggest that we haven’t had the talent to win those cups when those clubs did…. well, you can put your own language on that.
So Wenger has 7 in 16 full seasons (this one included even with two games left) which is one every 2.3 seasons. Graham has 6 in 8 so that’s one every 1.3 seasons. Those are the highest numbers so I think there is a case for Graham to be our greatest ever manager but I’ll come back to that.
What about “best”? Many things need to be taken into consideration but the three names that are most worthy of competing are Wenger, Chapman and Graham.
Each have changed Arsenal and each have achievements that stand out. Chapman brought Arsenal their first trophies and introduced concepts, ideas and tactics that were emulated the world over. He changed the face of London forever by successfully campaigning to have Gillespie Road Station renamed Arsenal Station and truly is one of the Arsenal greats. Graham turned a stagnant Arsenal into a force to be reckoned with and delivered probably the greatest moment in living history for Gooners over 30 and that was that magical night at Anfield. He brought through a team of talent young players and brought the second greatest goalscorer to the club. The rearguard he left behind became the bedrock of the early success of Wenger.
Arsène however changed the face of English football. His vision, tactics, philosophy, diets, training regimes and scouting set up has been copied by most clubs in Europe and some would argue has been done better but that’s a discussion for another time. Arsène Wenger took us to a new stadium, made building state of the art facilities a top priority and has treated us to some of the greatest players the club has ever seen. He has seen team after team dismantled by the financial power of others yet hasn’t allowed us to drop out of the top four. He has qualified us for the Champions League for 16 years in a row! I think what the man has achieved for the club away from silverware is enough to call him the best manager we’ve ever had.
In terms of silverware he is also our greatest manager but I think for sheer spread of success and in half the time I think George Graham has a real shout.
I’d like Arsène to win a few more trophies so he will be the clear choice for greatest ever manager but for my money he is undeniably the best manager we’ve ever had, even if he left tomorrow.
And not just for Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson may well be the greatest manager the premier league has ever seen but for me, Arsène Wenger is the best.
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