Right man or Wright man?
Norman Fox studies the qualities which drew Arsenal to Arsene Wenger
Sunday 18 August 1996
London Colney is a less than idyllic suburb of St Albans, almost on the hard shoulder of the M25. Here Arsenal have their training ground, and here they have their private rows, which over the past few seasons have become regular occurences. The latest came when Ian Wright was told by several of the other senior players that they had heard him defending David Dein, the club's full-time vice-chairman, who also happens to be the main influence behind the expected signing of Wenger and Bruce Rioch's dismissal. Rioch may not have been completely accepted by all of the Arsenal squad, but most of them sympathised because he had his hands tied by Dein and the directors who had complete control over transfers. Dein had "persuaded" Wright not to leave the club last season, so Wright supports him. Wenger is going to find himself in the middle of more domestic problems than the welfare of Paul Merson.
What the fans will be asking is whether, even if he is given the right to sign his own players, he has the influence, standing and contacts to do so. Though recognised as an outstanding coach who can make the most of whatever talent is available, which he did successfully at Monaco, he is not known for doing what Arsenal badly need, buying players rather than developing them.
His philosophy is not so different from that of Rioch before he became demoralised at Highbury. We were going to see a more attacking Arsenal and more use of midfield enterprise. We did, but briefly. Rioch said he wanted a more entertaining Arsenal. Wenger says much the same. His ambition is to discover and promote "super-stars". He regretted that Euro 96 saw no new ones, so what chance of finding them at London Colney?
Gerard Houlier, director of football in France, has watched Wenger's progress over several years and says: "He is very capable but has never been tested in a league as competitive as you now have in England." Wenger himself says that is the reason he is interested in coming. "If I stay for too long in Japan I will lose touch with what is happening in Europe. And what is happening in England is that it is becoming the heart of European football," he said.
His time at Grampus Eight in Japan has seen him attract some useful players, mainly from France. He took over from Gordon Milne and inherited Dragan Stojkovic but Gary Lineker had already gone so he had to act quickly, buying Gerald Passi from St Etienne and Frank Durix from Nantes. Then he asked Boro Primorac, the former Cannes coach, to become his assistant. Arsenal can expect a strong Gallic connection, but the question is whether Wenger has sufficient connections elsewhere to rebuild an ageing team.
Wenger's background is unlikely to impress Arsenal fans who had been hoping for Johan Cruyff. After graduating in economics he played amateur football for Mutzig, Mulhouse, Vauban and Strasbourg. He spent seven years at Monaco, quickly taking them to the French championship and promoting the talents of, among others, George Weah.
Nevertheless, Monaco and Arsenal can hardly be compared since the average gate in the Principality rarely exceeds 5,000. Grampus Eight is bigger but still isolated from the hub of world football. Bayern Munich's Jurgen Klinsmann, who played under Wenger at Monaco, said: "It was not easy in Monaco to think of the club or even football as being important, but Arsene made sure the club became accepted as a big influence on French football."
l William Hill, who took a string of bets about Rioch losing his job, are already offering odds of 5-1 about the next Arsenal manager failing to survive until the final day of the Premiership season. "Shrewd punters won thousands of pounds when Rioch was sacked," the Hills spokesman Graham Sharpe said. "So we are trying to win some of it back by offering odds about his successor."
Stan Hey, page 21
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