They say that grief hits you in waves. Months can go by without being swamped by that morbid feeling. Then, on some idle Wednesday, you can be knocked off your feet with sorrow.
That’s probably how I’ll feel about Arsene Wenger. After nearly 22 years, the Frenchman announced his resignation from the Arsenal job on Thursday.
For most of my life, he has been the manager of the club I love.
The French revolution
I grew up watching Arsene Wenger revolutionise English football.
When he won a double in his first full season, I was getting ready to join secondary school. When he won his second, I was sweating my through my GCSE’s.
Supporting his teams meant subscribing to the idea that football wasn’t just about results. It was about committing to a style of play, submitting yourself to an ideal that the game, above all else, should be entertaining.
More often than not, going into school on Monday was bliss. Nothing made me more smug than a ravaging Arsenal performance at the weekend. Nothing gave me more satisfaction than a gruff nod from my Manchester United or Liverpool-supporting friends.
“Yous were good at the weekend.” Yes, we were.
More than just a manager
Wenger, and the sides he built, gave me some of the most precious moments of my childhood.
Tony Adams’ exultant celebrations as Arsenal won the title against Everton at Highbury in 1998. Thierry Henry’s slaloming run and finish against Liverpool at the same ground.
He saved the careers of both of those Arsenal legends. One of his first responsibilities had been to support the rehabilitation of his captain in his battle with alcoholism.
Henry, meanwhile, was a middling striker struggling to make an impact at Juventus before Wenger plucked him from the doldrums. Their success is his success, too.
Blest be the ties that bind
Supporting Arsenal was a crucial part of my relationship with my father.
Every weekend, we’d crowd around the television set, united for ninety minutes in the appreciation of footballing art.
I still remember watching the 2006 Champions League Final at home with him and my brother. I still remember the hollowed feeling when Henrik Larsson came off the bench to win the game for Barcelona.
I have sat, transfixed, as Arsene Wenger’s work brought my club to places it had never been before. I have sat, too, sharing his grief when things went wrong.
Man first, manager second
Even when his luck changed, Wenger’s class has been the one constant.
At times, the abuse became nasty and personal, but you wouldn’t have noticed it from his press conferences. A collegiate man with a caustic wit, his curling smile was often his most effective armour.
Often, the circumstances in which he had to manage were unreasonable. He built and dismantled one of the greatest sides in the history of the game, whilst overseeing a simultaneous move to a stadium whose costs had ballooned rapidly.
Through it all, he was the club’s face and fall man, taking the flak whilst an army of suits lurked happily in the shadows.
The end of an era
History will be kind to Arsene Wenger.
He is one of the greatest managers the sport has ever seen, a thinker and innovator who shifted the paradigm and made the game better for it.
I will always remember what he did for my club and I will always love him for it.
Thank you for the memories, Arsene.
What memories do you have of Arsene Wenger? Let us know by commenting below.