“Fear guides the restriction of our ambition. You have not to be scared. Be audacious. Be ambitious. Your life can be wider than your widest dream,” ( Arsene Wenger, 2021).
I remember it like yesterday. The very first time that Arsene Wenger was announced as the new Arsenal Football Club Manager was during the very same season that I was chosen to be a member of the Official Arsenal FC Ballboy and Ballgirl squad. I remember being particularly proud of having the squad number 10 as that happened to be the squad number of the legendary Dennis Bergkamp in the Arsenal First team squad. I also remember at the end of that 1996/97 season when Wenger arrived and we finished in 3rd place, that I had the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him in his native French (Merci Monsieur Wenger) at the end of season awards at Highbury for all who had officiated for the club during that season.
Nobody knew who Arsene Wenger was. In truth he was an enigma to us all. Little did we know that some 22 years later after his arrival to the club he loved that he would leave a legacy which marked him out as the most successful and longest serving manager in the history of Arsenal Football Club. And among the greatest of his achievements was to do the impossible in leading his talented team of players to win the English Premier League Title without a single defeat during the 2003/04 season.
The release of Arsene Wenger: Invincibles (2021) tells that story in his own words and he has a great supporting cast in Martin Keown, Lee Dixon, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Arsenal’s greatest ever player in Thierry Henry. The documentary would not have been as interesting without the contribution of Sir Alex Ferguson who built a fierce rivalry with Wenger during those early years where only Manchester United and Arsenal were dominating and competing for that top spot.
While Wenger was unable to recapture the glories of the past towards the end of his illustrious career, he has left an indelible mark on the sport as a manager who paved the way for the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp – managers imported from diverse European leagues who have become successful in their own right in today’s English Premier League.
If the nicest thing we can do is to send our roses of appreciation to those we love while they are still living, then a statue in honour of Arsene Wenger while he is still here with us would be fitting.
It was a privilege to be a ballboy at the club when Arsene Wenger arrived; euphoric to be in Emirates stadium shouting my head off at the return of Thierry Henry scoring a goal on his second debut in the FA Cup against Leeds and a delight to be among the crowd of red and white during the 2014 FA Cup parade – the first of three before Wenger took his final bow from the club which he lived and breathed and gave his all to. Audacious he was; ambitious he is and for us fans he gave us something wider than our widest dreams and for that I say “Merci beaucoup.”
© Copyright 2021, Darell J Philip