Date:Tuesday May 11 2010
Mildly conflicting stories were posted on the club web site yesterday. Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal`s CEO claimed he was confident that Wenger would agree to extend the contract which expires at the end of next season while shortly after Wenger was reported declaring he was not sure if or when he would do so. What thoughts might he be having that would lead him not continue beyond next season?
Thus far he has had something of an inverted career at the club. The nearest we have had to him in accomplishments was Herbert Chapman who having joined the club in 1925 set about rebranding it. Among other innovations he adopted the now iconic red shirt and white sleeves and changed the name of the local tube station literally putting the club on the map. It was to take a few years for his investment to bear fruit and for Chapman to win a trophy but as history records it paid off gloriously. Wenger`s tenure has so far been something of a mirror image of Chapman`s and that of other successful managers such as United`s Ferguson. His innovative approach brought instant success which he was to sustain over his first 9 years culminating in the triumph of the unbeaten season of 2004. Though this was followed by success in the 2005 FA cup final he has now gone 5 seasons without a trophy.
But just as Chapman in the barren spell which preceded his success Wenger hasn`t been idle. Much has been achieved in those 5 years with the commissioning of a new stadium which his management was instrumental to successfully funding. In the process the moderately successful London club with a reputation for dour efficiency that he adopted has moved into a place firmly in among the top ten most valuable sporting franchises in the world according to Forbes magazine. The third most valuable 'soccer` franchise to use the magazine`s own language. He has transformed the image of the club to one playing an exhilarating brand of a football and along with the Arsenal board he has put the club into the highest echelons of sporting enterprise. He has also ensured continual CL qualification and competed in a CL final, semis and quarter finals with two respectably positive tilts at the PL title in that trophy drought.
Despite that the weight of expectation has at times manifested itself on the touchline this season as he has kicked drinks bottles at Old Trafford, thrown his jacket down in frustration at the Emirates, uncharacteristically though justifiably refused to shake Mark Hughes` hand at Eastlands and delivered an all too rare half time rant at Anfield. The urbane Frenchman has even found himself using the 'f` word more readily in post match press conferences than we have come to expect. The signs of frustration have been very apparent at times. If a similarly injury afflicted season were to confound him next season would anyone be greatly surprised if he decided not to subject himself to more of the same? He knows success is tantalisingly close at times but the line between triumph and failure is a very fine one indeed and can sometimes prove elusive for reasons outside his control. If he were to fail to win anything next season would he feel the inevitable discontent amongst some of the clubs followers would best be answered by passing the baton to someone else? On the other hand if he does win something what better time for him to call it a day and take anyone of a number of short term lucrative assignments in football or pursue some philanthropic interest? Some might expect him to take a job in the Arsenal boardroom but he may fear he`ll cast too long a shadow over the next manager to be entirely comfortable with that. Whether Wenger wins a trophy next season or not both outcomes offer reasons for him to call time.
The hope has to be that he will decide to extend but he may well see how next season is shaping up before he does so. If he does decide not to he can do so knowing that he has left the club in extraordinarily good shape with the knowledge that whoever takes over the club needn't possess the qualities to leave the legacies that he and Chapman have. That job has been done for now and his replacement will have the resources to do the job in a far more conventional manner because of Arsene`s investment in more than trophies.
Of course there would be life after Wenger if he decided to go. The club will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year and many heroes will be made in a promising future as they have been in a glorious past. Some people would have said we'd never replace Chapman but less than 60 years after he died we did.
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Date:Tuesday May 11 2010
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