I have placed this wonderful heartfelt article in Victor’s column. Howver the author is Victor’s son. also named Victor – Over to Victor Junior with his: ‘Confessions of an Arsenist’
As we enter Arsene Wenger’s twenty-first year at the helm of Arsenal Football Club, the glories of times gone by have become all too distant memories. Having been born in 1988 it is fair to assume that for the most part of my life I have known only Wenger to reside in the home dugout of Highbury and now the quiet cauldron of The Emirates. I think most of us, divided as we may be, would be forced to agree that any love we may have or have lost for Arsene was forged inside the grand art deco walls of Highbury. That love, whether it remains or not has been challenged and tested over the last decade.
Some would have referred to a person like me as an “AKB”. A tiresome and unwanted label stamped on my forehead simply because of my hesitancy in being critical of Arsene Wenger in the past. Yes, it is true that in the past I may have blindly followed Arsene as he led the club down paths that may or may not have been optimal. However, what is a more troubling question and one that requires more attention is ‘why have I allowed myself to blindly follow him?’ The answer to me is of far more moral importance. You might say more ‘human’.
As a young boy growing up through adolescence, my teenage years, and into adulthood Arsene Wenger embodied virtues and values that any parent would hope to instill in their child.
It was of no coincidence to me that Wenger and Arsenal became synonymous with each other between 1996-2004. Both symbols of excellence and ambition. Pundits and journalist alike would laud Arsene’s early Arsenal sides. Flare and grace of devastating beauty that was a result of the manager’s own obsession with pursuing football as a form of art. However, as beautiful and easy on the eye as we appeared. For me, something more profound was at play. As the team flourished and thrived under Wenger’s guidance, my fascination with him flourished also. I would study and analyse every pre and post-match interview, every press conference and all the news articles in between. His language and demeanour was that of someone unlike many we meet in everyday life. Here was a man enjoying the fruits of his labour and we enjoyed them too. However, he did so with a grace and humility that has become and continues to be rare in modern society.
Sadly, the necessity of moving away from the hallowed turf of Highbury brought new challenges. It is obvious to all that those challenges hampered our ambitions on the pitch. Where that blame lies is a debate I do not wish to enter. The most disturbing facet of the baron years under Wenger, for me, was watching a man I had come to idolise squirm and writhe under the unrelenting eye of the media. His motivations and ambitions were questioned on a weekly basis, often after abysmal displays on the pitch, so abysmal that one has to wonder what the players he was so keen to protect had to offer in terms of an explanation. Nevertheless, he continued to protect them. The beauty that had become the hallmark of Wenger’s previous teams had all but wilted. However, as desolate and hopeless as things seemed, Wenger’s own values, the values that sat so synonymously with the club, were still as evident as ever before if not more so. The fruits of his labours had rotted and spoiled but his roots were still grasping as strongly and as purposefully as they ever did. Herein lies the problem we face. Have I invested too much admiration in Wenger due to his personal values instead of his ability to produce results is the question I still wrestle with. The toxicity that surrounds the club at the moment is a result of extreme views on both sides of the coin. One side that I may have been once associated with is prepared to excuse the inexcusable and the other is prepared to produce levels of vitriol and malice that should not be tolerated in the street let alone the home of our club.
Despite all of this, a more saddening theory exists. The theory that perhaps Wenger is afraid of letting go. To review the evidence that supports this theory all but rids it of that title “a theory”. Wenger’s obsession with football is well documented but his most telling confession came almost a year ago to the day when interviewed by the guardian. When asked about the possibility of retirement he confessed: “It’s been my life and quite honestly, I’m scared of the day. The longer I wait the more difficult it will be to lose the addiction”.
“After (sir) Alex retired and we played them over there, he sent a message to me to come and have a drink with him. I asked him, ‘Do you miss it?’ He said, ‘not at all.’ I did not understand that. It is an emptiness in your life. Especially when you’ve lived your whole life waiting for the next game and trying to win it.”
This to me is as deep an insight that you are ever likely to get into the psyche of one of modern footballs most troubled and influential figures. Retirement is seen as “Emptiness”. Since reading, that interview a year ago, a question remains that is inescapable – Is Arsene Wenger the answer or is Arsenal Arsene Wenger’s answer?
As the curtain begins to draw on Wenger’s reign I remain hopeful that it can end on a note suiting to the man. You may argue that the time for that has passed, but regardless of our individual opinions, the fact remains. He is still at the helm. I am open to the idea of Arsenal without Arsene. In fact, I would welcome it for his good as well as the clubs. However, until that day arrives I will support him and the team that chose to wear the shirt, and I remain hopeful that when the curtain finally falls he is given the gratitude he so richly deserves.
Our thanks to Guest Columnist, Victor Thompson, the younger who can be found and followed @GunnerVic1988