Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s departing general, deserves a fitting farewell | Barney Ronay

Nobody will manage a top club across three decades again. The Frenchman will stand as the last of English footballs great Napoleonic managers

All things must pass. Even, it turns out, the glorious, unrepeatable and by the end strangely interminable reign of Arsene Wenger as administrator of Arsenal Football Club. After 22 years in charge Wenger has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season.

It is a deviation that has been pencilled tentatively in to the footballing calendar for as long as anyone cares to recollect; but which still arrived on Friday morning like a long-delayed bereavement, jamming the phone-in switchboards and flooding social media with the usual mess of fury, regret and irresolvable debate over a hotly contested legacy.

The news of Wenger’s departure came not from his own lips at one of his bi-weekly press conferences but via government officials statement- fittingly so for a human solely bound up in this footballing organization, who virtually feels like a physical component of that looming glass and steel super-stadium.

There will now be a sense of deep fascination around Arsenal’s final seven or maybe eight games of the season, a running that would take Wenger up to a mind-boggling total of 1,236 matches in charge. Not to mention, of course, an air of genuine sadness.


Arsene Wenger’s 22 -year tenure as Arsenal manager

22 September 1996

Arsenal announce Wenger’s appointment

12 October 1996

Win 2-0 against Blackburn in Wenger’s first match in charge

3 May 1998

Defeat Everton 4-0 to win Premier League title

16 May 1998

Beat Newcastle 2-0 to lift FA Cup and complete the double

13 February 1999

Wenger offers to replay Sheffield United following controversial FA Cup win

17 May 2000

Lost 4-1 on penalties to Galatasaray in Uefa Cup final

8 May 2002

Win 1-0 at Old Trafford to win the league title

25 April 2004

A 2-2 depict at challengers Spurs confirms third league title win

15 May 2004

Beat Leicester 2-1 to complete The Invincibles’ unbeaten season

7 May 2006

Final game at Highbury

17 May 2006

Defeated 2-1 in Champions League final by Barcelona

28 August 2012

Lose 8-2 to Manchester United at Old Trafford

22 March 2014

Marks 1,000 th game in charge by losing 6-0 at Chelsea

27 May 2017

Wins record-breaking seventh FA Cup with victory over Chelsea

21 May 2017

Despite defeating Everton 3-1, they finish outside the top four for first time in Wenger era

20 April 2018

Announces he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season

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Throughout English football’s violent structural changes of the past three decades the government had been something reassuringly immovable about that gangling figure with the hawk-like frown, the turban of grey hair, arms flapping at his sides like broken deckchair struts, utterly captivated at all times by the sight in front of him.

Wenger will retire three months short of his 69 th birthday, in the process bringing to an end one of the great, transformative, utterly distinctive careers in British athletic.

He joined Arsenal in the summer of 1996 from Japanese football as an nearly total unknown in this country, an wholly left-field figure, but agreeably intense and jarringly articulate in his fourth language. All this at a time when the idea of a successful overseas director in England was still likely to draw a frown of weary scepticism.

Fast forward 22 years and during the Wenger era Arsenal have spent PS7 50 m, won 16 major trophies and fielded 220 players, almost a one-third of all players to play for Arsenal. In the process the manager has been the key figure in the total transformation of every one of the purposes of the club, including the creation of a spectacular era-shifting North London stadium that Wenger took to as though it were his own hard-earned kitchen extension.

More than this Wenger has been both a reforming force in British football and a figure that reached out route beyond the remit of his athletic. Those first few years in England are notorious to the point of cliche for the infectious cultural changes enacted around a grand old club that had fallen into a nation of lager-stained despond by the middle of the 1990 s.

These were the Grilled Broccoli Years, when Wenger strode the footballing scenery like our own thin white duke, bringing yoga and vegetables and a focus on a more refined, technological style to his initially sceptical, ultimately dedicated squad of players.

Arsene Wenger celebrates with the Premier League trophy during a victory procession after the’ Invincibles’ season of 2003-04. Photo: Peter MacDiarmid/ Reuters

” Is it too much to hope that Wenger will usher in a new age of reason in English football as a whole and not merely at Highbury ?” David Lacey wrote in the Guardian when Wenger was first unveiled with remarkable prescience as this is exactly what happened. Clubs everywhere aped the template of advanced conditioning and cosmopolitan personnel, ushering in a period of fast-paced enlightenment for a Premier League product en route to global industry domination.

Given this initial zeal perhaps the strangest thing about Wenger is the way his time in English football has pivoted around a single phase of paradox. A administrator who entered English football as a kind of fire-starter, junking the chocolate bars, taking his sledgehammer to a century of ossified certainties, has ended up rejected by many as a stick in the dirt, left-over and all-round badge of pig-headed stasis.

On the pitching Arsenal have undoubtedly declined in recent years, slipping form the edge of the European elite to a diminished position on the fringes despite some recent domestic trophies. Off the field Wenger has continued to run a brilliantly tight ship, leaving for his successor, and indeed his well-remunerated committee, a define of well balanced books and an infrastructure that is sparklingly up to date. Despite this there has been a collect upheaval at the one-sided nature of this bargain, the lack of a more reckless lust for glory in favour of steadiness and slacken decline.

The past few seasons have seen public protest, much-publicised fan-TV rants and even the silly but still quite funny proliferation of Wenger Out banners at events around the world, from political processions in South Africa to rugby matches in New Zealand. Wenger has been changed by this a little. A director who came to England kicking against the prickings has tended to sniffing against the new and the short-term in recent years. Wenger talking with a sigh about the fact that” we live in a world where people always want instant results/ new things/ perfection” has become a part of his own press conference bingo for a pack of occasionally exasperated but ever affectionate London football journalists.

It is a separate judgment on the short-termism of English football’s celebrity news-style culture that nobody seems quite sure what kind of farewell one of the great English football managers can expect from here. Will there be hordes, a procession, a vast heap of blooms, an extended Viking funeral?

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Wenger to leave Arsenal at objective of season- video report

It can only hope that history will cast Wenger’s time in England not as one of late-breaking angst, but as the love story it was so clearly at the outset.

Players will remember Wenger’s charm and humour, his famously lively dancing( his status as Arsenal’s top option as director all those years ago was corroborated during a raucous dinner party in the societies of the former vice-chairman ).

Fans might prefer to recall a football director who helped construct not just a stadium but a new training ground and a modern, re-geared globally renowned sporting club.

Quick guide

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal honours

Premier League( 3 ): 1997 -9 8, 2001 -0 2, 2003 -0 4.

FA Cup( 7 ): 1997 -9 8, 2001 -0 2, 2002 -0 3, 2004 -0 5, 2013 -1 4, 2014 -1 5, 2016 -1 7.

Community Shield( 6 ): 1998 -9 9, 1999 -2 000, 2002 -0 3, 2004 -0 5, 2014 -1 5, 2015 -1 6.

P remier League Manager of the Season ( 3 ): 1997 -9 8, 2001 -0 2, 200 -/ 04. League Managers’ Association Manager of the Year( 2 ): 2001 -0 2, 2003 -0 4. BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year( 2 ): 2002, 2004. Premier League Manager of the Month( 15 )

Photograph: Scott Heavey/ PA
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Beyond this Wenger will stand as perhaps the last of English football’s great Napoleonic directors. The century-old fascination with the manager as something bound into the fabric of club and community, a magnetic force of benevolent personality has pretty much run its course, or at the least been replaced by a more short term version.

Nobody will manage a top-level club across three decades again. No one person will become quite so closely wound around the basic structure of these grand old Victorian social institutions, transformed now at the highest level into distantly-run PLCs.

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Wenger has been part of that change, just as Arsenal is now a club whose staff members and business model reflect the priorities of the City financial institutions a few miles down the road. He will remain in the athletic, whether as director advisor or simply waspish Tv pundit. For now English football simply owes its departing general the correct, suitably fond, suitably grateful farewell.

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