Friday morning brought about some of the year’s most surprising news, if not the decade’s. Arsenal’s board concluded that now was the time to part company with Arsene Wenger.
As momentous as the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the death of John F Kennedy, Wenger’s departure comes as a surprise not because the team’s results do not warrant it, but because such a move appeared as if it may never happen.
In recent years, as Wenger has signed contract extension after contract extension without the team improving, it appeared that the manager was preparing the Emirates as his retirement home, even that he might spend the rest of his days there.
Perhaps Arsenal have missed a trick, the experience for pensioners to share a sitting-room with the manager could have been a supreme money-maker, while a replica of the Arsenal embossed coffin which they finally carried Wenger out of the Emirates in could have been sold in the millions to fans around the world.
Alas, the marketing team will have to think of other ventures with which to bankroll the club because the board have finally pandered to fans’ cries of ‘Wenger Out’ which have been reverberating around the stadium for the last decade.
So, for the first time in many supporters’ lifetimes, their team will not be managed by the wily Frenchmen – so entwined with the club that his name mirrored theirs.
Fans will be hoping for a young innovator to bring a new style that can propel the team back to the top, forgetting that that is exactly what the man they just ousted once was.
Arriving in 1996, he was little known in England, but soon changed the game, engaging in a fierce rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United for eight years, culminating in his Invincibles team of 2003-04 going all season unbeaten.
The biggest tragedy for Wenger is that unlike Ferguson, whose continued success led to widespread praise when he called time on his illustrious career, his team stagnated.
Some late FA Cup victories could not cover up the league failings and European thrashings for fans, meaning that Wenger will be ushered out of the back door as his successor is trumpeted through the gates.
Yet, the contribution of this great manager to the club and English football should not be forgotten.
Image: Ronnie Macdonald