What's become of Wenger?

Arsene Wenger has always been seen as a mature, sophisticated polyglot, he himself has never denied that fires burn underneath.-AP

It was Wenger who brought Thierry Henry from Juventus to Highbury for GBP10 million, turning him with such huge success from a right winger into a prolific centre forward (They'd first been together at Monaco). Wenger who took Patrick Vieira from Milan's reserves, Wenger who snatched the 15-year-old Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and boldly, successfully, gambled on him to succeed Vieira as the fulcrum — despite his smaller size — of the Arsenal midfield. A nutter? If so, then a very effective one. over to Brian Glanville.

When Arsenal's Manager Arsene Wenger in his frustration shoved assistant referee Martin Atkinson at Sunderland, he was playing into the hands of his critics. Wenger was irate because he felt that too much injury time had been conceded by the referee, thus enabling Sunderland to score a last gasp equaliser. The response by the disciplinary committee of the Football Association was briskly to fine him GBP8000 and suspend him from the dug out for one game. The response of Harry Redknapp, manager of Arsenal's local rivals, Spurs, was to proclaim that Wenger had joined the ranks of the managerial “nutters”. What no one, not least in the media, seemed to realise was that history was bizarrely repeating itself.

Ten long years earlier, when the Gunners had played Sunderland on their original stadium, Roker Park, Wenger had been charged by the FA with having at the end of the game run down the tunnel and laid hands on another fourth official, one Paul Taylor, his punishment was less comic than ferocious: a GB100,000 fine plus a ban from the dug out for 12 games. “It is as if I killed somebody,” said an aggrieved Arsene, and the “Times” called the punishment discipline “Gone Mad.”

Naturally Wenger appealed for freedom in August when the supposed offence took place, but he had to wait till February, he justifiable insisting that if he did touch Taylor at all, it was simply to separate his player, Thiery Henry, from a Sunderland opponent, it was not till this belated moment that his sentence was not even quashed, but merely reduced, the find being cut to £10,000 and the suspension reduced to a mere reprimand.

The supposedly offended fourth official Paul Taylor, had meanwhile, disgraced himself by abusing, obscenely, a Notts County player in a game he was refereeing. Yet to suggest, as Redknapp did that Wenger had suddenly cracked, suddenly lost his poise and control, showed ignorance both of his personality and his whole career.

For though Wenger has always been seen as a mature, sophisticated polyglot, he himself has never denied that fires burn underneath. Not least, as one so clearly remembers, when Arsenal played West Ham United a few seasons back at Upton Park, West Ham got what proved to be the winning goal and the Hammers' manager, Alan Pardew, went into frenetic ecstasies of celebration on the touchline. Wenger moved menacingly towards him and had to be restrained.

The pity of his latest push and suspension is that it has given ammunition to his critics and rivals, who had very recently been angered by his appeal to referees to give better protection to his players. Sam Allardyce at Blackburn, had been put out, and said so, by Wenger's impugning of the way Blackburn's players had crowded and obstructed the Gunners' keeper, Alumnia. The Bolton manager, Owen Coyle, was irate when Wenger strongly deplored what he called “a very bad tackle” by the Bolton left back, Paul Robinson, which put the Arsenal midfielder, Abou Diaby, off the field and out of the game for several matches to come.

Stoke City's Manager, Tony Pulis, was greatly vexed when Wenger criticised a foul committed by his big, blond centre back, Shawcross: And the player himself complained that Wenger seemed to “Have it for him.” And why not? Last season, it was a truly shocking foul by Shawcross, at Stoke, on the precociously gifted Welsh teenager, Aaron Ramsey, which has forced him out of football ever since. Not to mention that horrific foul, late in the season before last, by the Birmingham City centre back, Taylor, inflicting multiple leg fractures on the unfortunate Croatian-Brazilian centre forward, Eduardo, ruling horse de combat for the best part of the year. Horrifying fouls in-deed: Wenger knows all too well whereof he speaks.

As against that, some might retort that Arsenal, under Wenger, were no angels, that not so long ago, they had raked up by the alarming number of 72 red cards. Wenger would brush criticism aside. Seeming to place the fault on referees, rather than his own men. Though it was hardly a referee, who spat in the face of “Razor Ruddock” at West Ham, when the big, hard, highly capable, French international Patrick Vieira was sent off. So often did Wenger, say that he had not seen contentious incidents involving his own players, rather like his own predecessor at Arsenal, George Graham, that I once suggested that his ideal half back line would be the three wise monkeys. To give him his due, he ultimately made something of a joke of it himself.

When Wenger arrived to take charge at Highbury, in the summer of 1996, ignorance and insularity were rife. Arsene who?” asked some correspondents in the press, while a vociferous group of self important but ill-informed Arsenal fans met, to make public protest. In fact, for anyone who knew their European football, Wenger was anything but unknown. He had, for seven years, been successfully in charge of the major Monaco club. In the first of his seven seasons there, he won the French championship. Twice, he turned down the chance to manage the French international team. Finally and controversially dismissed, he went to Japan to manage the Grampus club. David Dein, then the main mover and shaker among Arsenal's Directors, was the man, a close friend, who brought him to the club and in time, had the satisfaction of seeing his ill-informed critics routed.

Yes, there have been some odd moments in Wenger's many years at Arsenal: But certainly the finest manager and the most innovative in every way, not learnt in training facilities and diet, since the legendary Herbert Chapman; who, for all his remarkable influence, was at Highbury only for just under nine extraordinary years.

It was Wenger who brought Thierry Henry from Juventus to Highbury for GBP10 million, turning him with such huge success from a right winger into a prolific centre forward. (They'd first been together at Monaco.) Wenger who took Patrick Vieira from Milan's reserves, Wenger who snatched the 15-year-old Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and boldly, successfully, gambled on him to succeed Vieira as the fulcrum — despite his smaller size — of the Arsenal midfield. A Nutter? If so, then a very effective one.