A while back, I stated in a post that politics and religion are subjects best left away from family. They are also best not discussed in the workplace. Or online.
There is a subject among Arsenal fans that is much like politics. There are two sides. Both sides are convinced that they are right. They can argue forever, with great passion, and come away only with the key idea that the other side is idiotic. It is a subject best not discussed.
No, I’m not referring to the approximately £3 million transfer each year from Arsenal’s coffers to majority owner Stan Kroenke’s Kroenke Sports Enterprises for services rendered that gets plenty of people frothing at the mouth.
I’m referring to the legacy of Arsène Wenger, our manager of the past 20 years. I’ve made no secret that I believe his legacy is extraordinary. That he is a hero of the highest order, and worthy of our deepest respect and esteem. But there are club supporters who think him an enormous failure, someone who should long ago have been escorted from the club with his belongings in a cardboard box.
That two groups could look at the same facts and arrive at vastly different conclusions is nothing short of amazing….unless you spend five minutes on Fox News and then spend five minute on MSNBC. (You should take a bath after this exercise. Trust me.)
It’s been said that part of the reason Americans are so polarized politically has much to do with how we seek out information that supports our world view, and selectively disregard facts that don’t. How we seek out associates who think as we do. Much the same can probably be said for polarized Arsenal fans.
In my quest to learn everything I can about the team I love, I’ve toured the stadium, read the website history, visited the museum. The club’s conclusion is unequivocal: It is indebted to Arsène Wenger. To the club he is clearly a legend who delivered the goods expected, as well as a faithful servant who adjusted to a different set of economic conditions to support the building of the stadium and stood tall as a lightning rod for fan ire.
I re-read Fever Pitch, the classic memoir of an Arsenal fan’s life. Fever Pitch was published in 1992, before Arsène Wenger came to the club, so while highly entertaining and educational, does not shed any light on the Wenger years. Its author, Nick Hornby, is quoted in Invincible, however. Hornby’s view on Wenger is not clear. It’s clear he thoroughly enjoyed the invincible season. Interviews and writings suggest that he may be one supporter who can see clearly the facts as they stand, good and bad. Still, through my particular lens, it seems he skews somewhat positive on the subject of Wenger.
I discussed Arsène Wenger: the Unauthorized Biography of Le Professeur in my post The pillow fairy brings Arsene Wenger. It was interesting to read, but not a great book….and in no way a biography, authorized or not. It had no particular point of view on Arsène’s legacy, the kind of book that could be used to support any point of view if you forced it into a back room and tortured it for a while. Still, I saw nothing that tainted my view of his legacy.
Stillness and Speed, the autobiography of Dennis Bergkamp, naturally includes his impressions of Arsène Wenger. Remembering that Bergkamp was at the club for one of its most fruitful periods (and a key contributor of said fruit), it’s not terribly surprising that his impression of Wenger is highly favorable. Could someone other than Arsène Wenger have gotten from Bergkamp what Wenger did? We know that Bergkamp’s manager at Inter Milan did not have the same success with Bergkamp. But Inter Milan was in serious decline before, during, and after Bergkamp’s stay. He couldn’t save it and didn’t know how to start. Perhaps Dennis was the perfect cog in an existing wheel at Arsenal. Maybe Wenger just been lucky to come when a strong base was in place, so shortly after the missing link had been located. But that wasn’t the point of view that Bergkamp shared. He had very little to say about Wenger that didn’t point to his intelligence, skill, knowledge, and his ability to shape the team from what it had been into what it became under his leadership. Point to Wenger, in my mind.
I also read Amy Lawrence’s Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season. It would be impossible for me to come away from the book without seeing Arsène Wenger’s complete brilliance, as an intellect and as a football mind, not just in architecting that one season but his contribution to the club overall. I can’t fail to see how smart he was, and is, and shall be. Wenger wins again.
I ask myself if one of the “Wenger Out” crowd, would come to a different conclusion after being presented with the same set of facts. I have to strongly suspect, even expect, that the answer is a resounding Yes.
Now some might say that those books mostly address a period in which Arsène was pure magic; he’s lost it now. But that doesn’t seem true to my reality either.
Therefore, I have to believe we’ll never come to agreement about Arsène’s current value to the club even if we can come closer to agreement about his historical value.
What puzzles me more than the polarized view on Wenger is how you could still be an Arsenal fan without supporting its manager of 20+ years. This is a manager who very much is the orchestrator of the team’s style of play. He was instrumental in buying all of the players for the past 20 or so years and developing them. For influencing the design and utility of the training center they work out in and the stadium that they compete in.
What exactly can you support in a club that is so heavily influenced and for so long by the man you hate?
It almost becomes like a political party that you vote for even though you no longer agree with any of its principles and can’t legitimately influence them. Why do you not set out to find a club that conforms to your principles and has a better chance of hiring a manager that does? Why do you hang around and suffer so?
(Must you suffer so loudly?)