In todays’ pre-match press conference at Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger was questioned on his feelings about being the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
When Wenger came took charge of the North Londoners’ back in 1996, Sir Alex Ferguson had been at United for a decade and the fruits of his labour were starting to bloom. Back then United had just won the domestic double – they won the 1995/96 FA Cup and were crowned 1995/96 Premier League champions.
Back then the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, and David Beckham famously nicknamed ‘the kids’ were exactly that, youngsters and under Ferguson they became world-beaters and, eventually, the best of their generation.
Ferguson was no spring chicken then – he would have been 55 years old in 1996 just as a 47-year-old Frenchman arrived in North London from Japan. Little did he know Arsene Wenger would become the bane of his existence for the next decade.
It took Wenger just two seasons in England to win the title and, at that stage Ferguson considered him a threat to his and United’s future. Arsenal won the domestic double in 1997/98 and, at that time, became United’s most dangerous rivals.
Ferguson, however, fought back hard the following season – it has been a familiar theme in his time at United that disappointment has galvanized the manager to fight back with a vengeance and he did winning a sensational treble in 1998/99.
The rest is history as they say – despite the emergence of Chelsea and in recent years Manchester City, Ferguson and United have won 6 league titles in the last decade.
As has been well documented Arsenal haven’t won a trophy since their 2004/05 victory over United in the FA Cup final. They’ve been unlucky, having made it to the Champions League final only to lose it in the last quarter of an hour and they’ve in recent years become ‘also rans’ in pretty much every competition.
However, Wenger, now 63, is the most experienced manager in the Premier League with his 17 years with the Gunners and, whilst there has been speculation he could leave or be moved on, I think now Arsene Wenger has the best opportunity yet of bringing Arsenal back to the levels of competitiveness they’ve lacked so desperately over the last half a dozen years.
It took Ferguson six seasons to win the league with United but the club kept faith with him and, like Arsenal, the faith and trust shown by the hierarchy at the club has and will pay dividends in the long run.
Going by Ferguson’s standards Wenger could have the best part of a decade left in him and, with Ferguson’s reign over English football coming to a close, perhaps now is the time for Wenger to fight back, in Ferguson’s image, with a vengeance.
images:© Ronnie Macdonald